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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 13, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 33
Yankee Tavern mystery worth a shot (but not two)
Arts & Entertainment
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Yankee Tavern mystery worth a shot (but not two)

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Yankee Tavern
ACT Theatre
Through August 29


Sip from a heady cocktail of conspiracy theories - or 'facts,' as writer Steven Dietz will correct you - at ACT Theatre's production of Yankee Tavern. If you do, you might find yourself getting woozy with ideas and pieces of information that don't add up, and uneasiness about whether there were nefarious plans and secret non-Muslim conspirators that gained in the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster.

Dietz writes smart dialogue and includes real, verifiable facts that cause you to question and even buy into some conspiracy issues in his play, but the entire production doesn't quite lead to anything but more chaos and confusion. The aim of the production is not clear, especially when the more spooky and interesting second act produces surprising twists and then ends abruptly.

The entire play takes place in a New York bar in 2006. Tavern owner Adam (Shawn Telford) and his fiancée Janet (Jennifer Lee Taylor) tolerate the raging pronouncements of Ray (Charles Leggett), a conspiracy believer, because he was best friends with Adam's father. Ray believes that Adam's father committed suicide, and Ray converses with his ghost in the upper floors of the rest of the abandoned building.

The young couple doesn't appear to buy anything that Ray says until a mysterious stranger walks in (R. Hamilton Wright) and chimes in with support for Ray's rantings with tidbits that suggest the stranger knows more than he's saying. Subtly, that influences the couple to pay more attention to the veracity of Ray's statements.

Act Two entangles Adam in his own conspiratorial types of activities, though Janet has a hard time believing Adam would lie to her so thoroughly. Wright's character, Palmer, has a lot of information for Janet, since he's been following Adam's activities, but why we should care about any of that is not clear. In fact, it's probably only due to Wright's accomplishments as an actor that we care about Palmer's murky connections at all. In less compassionate hands, we probably would dislike Palmer intensely, rather than almost wanting to know more about him and how he got to this point.

Charles Leggett as Ray brings a humanity and a sense of frustration that the world is not paying attention to this important information. If only people would really investigate it! His ability as an actor also means that one pays more attention to what he's saying than probably any other conspiracy theorist you've ever had the opportunity to listen to. He lends plausibility to what he's saying.

Taylor is very watchable as the woman caught up with all these men, trying to hold her own, watching her self-sufficiency get eroded. She has an affecting speech in the second act about wanting to "know" someone who was killed in the attacks. But all in all, we don't get to care enough about her to be very moved when her life disintegrates. Nor about Adam, who seems just to become some dupe of his professor. Dietz basically abandons his Ray character in the second act after all that buildup in the first.

The physical production is excellent, with a great bar by set designer Matthew Smucker, including a rundown H-TEL sign, moody lighting by Rick Paulsen, and terrific sound effects (of subway trains, trucks, garbage collection, and other outdoor noises) from Brendan Patrick Hogan. Director Dietz uses the in-the-round staging well.

The first act does set us up to question a number of areas we've perhaps thought of as settled in the 9/11 attacks, and maybe ready to change an attitude or two in the second act. Unfortunately, all that preparation gets left behind as the "thriller" part ramps up, and Dietz's point gets lost. For more information, go to www.acttheatre.org or call 206-292-7676.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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