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Cincinnati Shakespeare’s “1984” Will Leave You Wide-eyed!

Review by Willie Caldwell of 1984: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

The second production of Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 25thanniversary season is a shocker in more ways than one. Written by George Orwell and adapted to stage by Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan, 1984 tells the story of a dystopian future where, “war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.”

Written in 1949, Orwell’s novel is widely revered as one of the greatest political fiction and science-fiction novels of all time. The novel’s themes of totalitarian and authoritarian state governments resonate strongly with today’s political landscape and never-ending news cycle. Big Brother, doublethink, and thought-crime all play out in real time as the ruling party seeks to wipe out individualism and independent thinking through perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and propaganda.

The star of the show is undoubtedly the video and projections crated by Dan Reynolds and Steve McGowan of Brave Berlin. As the founding directors of LumenoCity and Blink, Reynolds and McGowan skillfully create an atmosphere of claustrophobic tension and a heightened sense of paranoia. The use of technology and digital projection mapping helps to create a surreal world where nothing is quite what it seems and there is always the sense that someone is watching. This is made apparent as the audience is incorporated more than once through the use of live stream video. Audiences are accosted by sound and light for the duration of the performance which runs approximately 101 minutes without intermission.

While the use of technology is an overall triumph, there are places where the sound becomes deafening. The repeated use of a siren becomes somewhat uncomfortable as does several instances of an amplified voice which is simply too loud. Ushers offer ear plugs which I would recommend.

The cast is strong and works hard to blend the world of the play with the world of the audience. Actors routinely break the fourth wall and reference the similarities between Orwell’s 1984 and current day.

Justin McComb’s portrayal of Winston Smith begins quietly and remains understated for the first part of the play. As tensions rise and allegiances are tested, McComb works himself into a full fledge frenzy on stage. Sweat, spit, and blood become tools in his performance as he works to close the gap between the actors and the audience forcing us to question our own reality and leaving us to wonder, is this really a “play?’

Julia, played by Sara Clark, is methodical and almost robotic. Clark’s carefully crafted performance demonstrates skillful control and is matched by the sharp lines of her appearance. Clark is reminiscent of the femme fatale character and embodies the seductive siren who will ultimately bring disaster to any man who becomes involved with her. Clark and McComb balance each other quite nicely as tensions continue to rise and ultimately reveal a dramatic transformation of the set.

O’Brien, played by Jeremey Dubin, weaves between our protagonists in a parental way that is ominously reassuring. Dubin delightfully embodies an air of smugness that often accompanies unchecked authority.  His performance is meticulously matched by his sharp suit, tidy pocket square, and horn-rimmed glasses.

Overall, the production is unnerving, timely, and a bit too real. If you’re looking for a psychological thriller of Orwellian proportions, don’t miss Cincy Shake’s production of 1984. Especially as we gear up for the real horror of the fall season… midterm elections.

1984 runs from October 12 – November 3, 2018. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling the box office at 513.381.2273.

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company Goes Back to the Future with “1984”

Review by Sheldon Polonsky of 1984: Cincinnati Shakespeare Company

Sara Clark in “1984”

The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company has departed from its Elizabethan roots frequently throughout the years, although perhaps never so markedly as this season, when it started with a Sondheim musical and now goes out on what may be its farthest limb ever with the regional premiere of Robert Icke’s and Duncan MacMillan’s adaptation of George Orwell’s vision of a dystopian future, 1984. If you think 1984 has been rehashed in just about every way imaginable already, think again, as this adaptation has plenty of fresh ideas and twists which would be a thought-crime to spoil in this review.

Suffice it to say that the singular quality of this production of 1984is its attempt to make the audience as viscerally uncomfortable as its protagonists. The play runs just short of 100 minutes with no intermission; the audience is warned that no one who leaves the theatre will be readmitted. Spectators are gamely offered earplugs before the show begins for anyone who is sensitive to loud noises. A large staticky video screen dominates the set which at the beginning is trained on the audience itself—but the entire set becomes a projection full of a myriad of shifting images designed to keep us off-balance. The fourth wall between the actors and the audience is shattered more than once. Jay Woffington, CSC’s executive director, perhaps said it best when I greeted him after the show: “Did you survive?”

The plot of1984 needs little exposition for anyone in the world who has a pulse. Winston Smith is an everyman in living in an indeterminate future, working at the “Ministry of Truth” as a technician who erases records of any individuals whose memory the State, run by “Big Brother”, wants to eradicate; secretly he wants to help overthrow the oppressive government by joining a shadowy brotherhood run by the elusive Emmanuel Goldstein. He is cast appropriately as CSC’s ever-reliable everyman, Justin McCombs, who demonstrates he can step out of his usual penchant for lighter roles with intensity and authenticity. Sara Clark, also a consistent CSC favorite, is seductive and powerful as Julia, Winston’s romantic interest and fellow conspirator. Jeremy Dubin is mesmerizing and chilling as the elusive O’Brien. Various other roles are performed rivetingly by other members of the CSC ensemble, both familiar and unfamiliar. All of them are tightly directed by Brian Isaac Phillips, who despite the occasionally repetitive or wordy script manages to keep the action unflagging and the audience’s attention pinned.

CSC’s technical prowess is tested in this production and the capabilities of their new venue shine here. The set, designed by Justen N. Locke, while seemingly utilitarian, is quite expansive and undergoes a surprising transformation towards the end. Sound and lighting effects (by Andrew Hungerford and Douglas Borntrager, respectively) abound, ranging from the subtle to the histrionic. And, as noted above, the show relies heavily on video and projections designed by Dan Reynolds and Steve McGowan of the Brave Berlin company. All of these effects were timed perfectly and always delivered.

It might be easy to suggest that 1984 has a peculiar relevance to audiences today because of our political climate—no matter which side of the political aisle you sit. But that would be disingenuous and do a disservice to the timelessness of Orwell’s masterpiece. The play explicitly rejects this notion in a brilliant framing device, which I won’t spoil for you either, but which makes it clear that the problems and ideas behind 1984 are ones which every people, of every age, must grapple with in their own way. And there are no easy answers. As we listen to Jeremy Dubin, as O’Brien, enjoining Winston Smith, we realize the choices we have to make are not morally unambiguous ones.

1984 may not be the most obvious theatrical choice for the Halloween season, but trust me, this production is every bit as terrifying and unnerving as the worst haunted house or horror movie you will see. Be advised, there are explicit scenes of graphic violence, torture, and sex in this production and it is not appropriate for younger viewers. 1984 runs through November 3rd at the Otto M. Budig theatre and tickets can be purchased on the CSC website, https://cincyshakes.com or by calling the box office.

CCM’s “Eurydice” is a Matter of Life and Death

Review by Doug Iden of Eurydice: CCM Acting

The drama Eurydice opens the CCM Studio Acting Series in the Cohen Family Studio Theater.  Based upon the Greek myth of Orpheus, Eurydice relates the updated parable about grief, the power of language to communicate and the struggle between life and death.

The play opens with two lovers (Eurydice, played by Madison Pullman, and Orpheus, played by Duncan Weinland) cavorting on the beach. They are in the prime of their lives and very happy.  Orpheus proposes to Eurydice who accepts.  Eurydice is enthralled with books, which has an ironic twist as the story progresses, while Orpheus is a musician and composer. This is also the first of many allusions to water which run throughout the play.

In the Underworld, we meet Eurydice’s father (James Egbert), who has managed to retain his ability to read and write, and remember the past despite being “dipped” in the river which is intended to obliterate all connections with the past. In Greek myth, the river is the boundary between the real world (life) and the Underworld (death).  Father writes letters to his daughter which she does not receive, but one is intercepted by The Interesting Man (Jabari Carter).  The Interesting Man entices Eurydice to his apartment with the promise that he will show her a letter from her father.  However, in his attempt to seduce her, Eurydice falls on the stairs and dies.

Thus, she is reunited with her father in the Underworld but, because she has been dipped in the river, she has no memories of the past or the ability to read and write. Her father patiently restores his daughter’s knowledge and a strong bond is created between them.

As Eurydice arrives in the Underworld, she is greeted by three Stones (played by Ella Eggold, Madeline Page-Schmit and Jack Steiner). The Stones, who often speak in unison, are a Greek Chorus which alternately provides commentary on the action,  and acts as the conscience and police force of the Underworld.  The Stones are appalled because Eurydice and her father have flagrantly violated the rules by reading and remembering.

We also meet the Lord of the Underworld (also played by Jabari Carter) who, as a child and later as a giant, tries to seduce Eurydice and warns her that she needs to conform. In the meantime, Orpheus is disconsolate with grief and writes music for her.  He attempts to communicate with her in the Underworld and, eventually, goes to the Underworld itself.

Eurydice is now in a situation where she must choose between her father and her husband and between life and death.

Led by Director Susan Felder, the acting is very good, led by Pullman’s Eurydice who must transform from a bright, almost naïve young living woman through grief, through confusion and ultimately through tragedy. Duncan Weiland as Orpheus also goes through a similar transformation.  Egbert’s Father is believable in an avuncular manner and represents reason and learning.  Carter’s multiple roles as the Interesting Man and two manifestations as the Lord of the Underworld (child and super-adult) are very effective as unctuous and duplicitous characters.  The Stones are both dramatic and hilarious as they react to the other characters.

The construction of the play is very interesting with a major emphasis on staging and lighting to help propel the story. The set is very sparse with a dark and stark aura.  Most of the “set design” by Abby Palen relies on props such as a blanket, an umbrella, buckets and a water pump and the construction of a room in the Underworld (which is prohibited) by Father who uses four poles and string to create the illusion.  The stage has a balcony which is used effectively to differentiate between life in the real world and the Underground which is shown solely on the main stage.  Thus, we see a literal division during the interplay between the living but grieving Orpheus and Eurydice in the Underworld.  There are also some interesting illusions such as the rainstorm in the elevator leading the Underworld.  The only real set piece is a cutout in the front of the stage representing the river.  (Several people coming into the theater almost had an unexpected bath (including me).)

The lighting (Elanor Quinn Eberhardt) is very effective in moving the action between various locations and represents multiple musical instruments in Orpheus’s love song to Eurydice composed by Duncan Weinland. The music, which is also prohibited by the Underworld, is sad  but makes the Stones cry when Orpheus appears.  There are also snippets of old songs which represent the tabooed memories of Father and his daughter.  Sound effects by Josh Windes also add to the atmospheric sense with rainfall and storms.  There are constant reminders of water which can either be cleansing or purge of the characters of their humanity.

This is a play that grows on you. I’ve been thinking about it since I saw it and many of the apparently disparate parts are beginning to gel.  When I left the theater, I thought that this was merely an interesting play but now I think it is both interesting and well-devised.

So, as we approach the Halloween season, you can take a trip to the Underworld by viewing Eurydice at the Cohen Family Theater at CCM.

Incline’s “Next To Normal” is Complex, Emotional

Review by Doug Iden of Next to Normal: Incline Theatre

Next to Normal is the hopeful but ironic title of the opening musical for the District Series at the Warsaw Federal incline Theater.  It is the powerful story of a family torn apart by a wife and mother suffering from mental illness.  It is also the layered story of multi-generational misunderstanding, lack of communication, striving for personal identity, difficulties with relationships and the complexities of dealing with long term illness.

The show opens with the apparently innocuous song “Just Another Day” with four family members getting ready for their respective daily activities. Already, however, we get clues that undercurrents exist and the family may not be as connected as the song would imply.  Dad (Dan Goodman, played Brian Anderson) states several times that he “doesn’t have a clue” what his wife Diana (Lesley Hitch) is talking about. Diana blithely starts making multiple sandwiches on the floor with the explanation that she is preparing lunches for the future.  Their daughter Natalie (Leslie Kelly) is being a teenage brat and their son {Gabe, played by Tanner Gleeson) seems disengaged.

The family conflict comes to a head early when Diana prepares a birthday party to her family and new friend of Natalie’s named Henry (Elliot Handkins) which reveals Diana’s long-term mental illness and its shocking reason.  Diana’s illness causes an estrangement between her and Natalie with a resulting eruption of resentment and later the inability of Natalie to maintain a stable relationship with Henry.

Dan takes Diana to several psychiatrists (both played by Derek Harper) who tries medication first and then a shock therapy to attempt to cure Diana’s bipolar condition.  The remainder of the show deals with both the family’s and Diana’s attempts to fight the illness and cope with the results.

The show is virtually an opera with music by Tom Kitt and book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey.  The score is a combination of ballads, rock and a hint of country music. All of the actors have excellent voices but are particularly adept at “acting” the songs with a combination of anguish, anger, disillusionment, pain, hope, longing and confusion.  Leslie Hitch as Diana sings her way through a breadth of emotions and is critical to the drama since the story evolves entirely around her.  Her song highlights include “You Don’t Know”, “I Miss the Mountains” and “So Anyway”.

Anderson (Dan) sings a loving and caring but confused role as he plaintively tries to bring Diana to reality.  Gabe counters with a raucous, defiant song “I’m Alive” is reprised several times and his unhealthy relationship with his mother widens the gap between Diana and the rest of the family. Kelly, as Natalie, swings from anger to concern for her mother and a wariness about establishing a relationship with Henry in the songs “Perfect for You”, “Hey #1 and #2) and a reconciliation duet with her mother “Maybe (Next to Normal)”. The music and singing are universally good led by music director Dr. Brian Hoffman.  The band plays well and allows the singers to project.

Brett Bowling’s sparse set design of an almost surrealistic house is very effective with the actors positioned on the various catwalks in the structure.  But the real highlight is Denny Reed’s lighting design with color changes that match the varying emotional moods of the characters.  Hues alternate between vivid greens, shocking reds, stark whites and various fadeouts.  The best example is the scene during which Diana receives the shock therapy with flashing lights and moving psychedelic images projected on the set.  The lighting becomes a character.

Director Matthew Wilson has created a taut, well-choreographed show.  There is little dancing per se but there is almost continual movement and good positioning of the actors.

I had not seen this show before but have some personal experience with the illnesses so I got into the drama a bit more emotionally than I normally would.  Still, this is an excellent production with good acting and even better singing and I encourage you to see it.  There is some adult language and the subject matter can be daunting.

Next to Normal continues at the Incline Theater through October 21.  Their next production is The Graduaterunning from January 24 through February 10.

Incline’s “Next to Normal” Poignantly Depicts the Impact of Mental Illness

Review by Laurel Humes of Next to Normal: Incline Theatre

Warsaw Federal Incline Theater has staged a powerful production of Next to Normal, the prize-winning rock musical about a family afflicted by mental illness.

It is the mother, Diana, who is struggling with bipolar disorder. But her husband, Dan, and teenage children, Natalie and Gabe, are all victims, as she swings from manic to depressive.

We follow Diana through medical treatments and psychotherapy. We follow her family through caregiver fatigue, anger and resentment in their quest to have a life that is not perfect, just “next to normal.”

Not your lighthearted musical. But see it for the insightful book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey, the compelling plot twists, and the striking performances by all six cast members. And because Next to Normal won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The show is an almost completely sung-through musical, with nearly 40 songs. Because the lyrics are essential to the story, it was upsetting opening night when the off-stage band sometimes overpowered the singers. Certainly this can be corrected in future performances.

Lesley Hitch needs all her considerable acting skills to show us a Diana whose emotions, because of the disease and effects of treatment, stretch from loving to unfeeling, disappointing her family time and time again. One of Hitch’s most powerful and poignant songs, “I Miss the Mountains,” comes when she throws away the pills meant to steady her moods but have left her numb. “I miss the mountains, I miss my life.”

Brian Anderson portrays husband Dan as a gentle and kind caregiver to his wife through the 16 years of her disease that may have resulted from a tragic event they shared. Anderson gives us a man who is mostly burying his own feelings, which makes the moments they do emerge more moving. “Who’s crazy?” he sings. “The one who’s half-gone? Or maybe the one who holds on.”

Leslie Kelly is dynamic as high school daughter, Natalie. The typical teenage contradictions of needing and rejecting her parents is so sad because her parents can’t be there for her – all the focus is on her mother’s condition.

So we watch Natalie seek a way to numb her pain, maybe music performance, maybe drugs. The most promising is a new boyfriend (Elliott Handkins, in a fine performance), if she can keep herself from pushing away this person who clearly loves her.

The final member of the family is son Gabe, who is at the center of the plot but whose story can’t be revealed without spoiling a plot twist. In the hands of Tanner Gleeson, Gabe is forceful and touching, and maybe a bit unintentionally evil. Among Gleeson’s best moments are the songs “I’m Alive” and “There’s a World.”

Derek Harper rounds out the cast in multiple roles as Diana’s doctors. Harper (a pharmacist in real life!) is mostly given dry, unemotional lines, but watch for his breakout moments as “rock star” doctor.

Scenic designer Brett Bowling and lighting designer Denny Reed have created a setting that beautifully enhances the arcs of the story. The family home set is primarily a series of staircases, useful for escaping one another. One side of the house outline leans in; will the house itself collapse with the family? The lighting follows the characters’ moods, exuberant to bleak.

Next to Normal is briskly directed by Matthew Wilson, who has led his cast to flesh out every nuance of meaning and certainly to give everything to their performances.

I hope this show gets the audience it deserves.

Next to Normal runs Wednesdays-Sundays through Oct. 21 at Warsaw Federal Incline Theater, 801 Matson Place, in the Incline District of East Price Hill. For tickets, call 513-241-6550 or go to www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com.

 

 

Falcon’s “Yankee Tavern” Gives You Performances You Can Believe In

Review By Laurel Humes of Yankee Tavern: Falcon Theatre

Conspiracy theories. Laughable or true? Trivial or deadly?

Yankee Tavern, now at Falcon Theatre, takes on many of those theories. You will find yourself both laughing and wondering during the course of this well-staged production of Steven Dietz’ play.

It’s 2006 in New York City, just five years after the 9/11 attack. We’re in a small neighborhood bar, a setting chosen because, as Dietz says, “taverns are home to the tallest of tall tales.”

The tallest-tale teller is Ray (Ted J. Weil), such a long-time customer that he has his own key. Ray’s life work, it appears, is to spin through all the conspiracy theories that have haunted horrible events, from JFK’s assassination to the Twin Towers attack.

And the moon landing! Ray says what we watched on TV was fake (“A buddy of mine did the lighting for it.”). The actual landing was on a moon we can’t see.

Ray also claims the Yankee Tavern itself was impacted by 9/11. The jukebox died when the planes struck, right in the middle of (how appropriate) “American Pie.” It hasn’t worked since.

Bar owner Adam (Kyle Parker Daniels) and his fiancée Janet (Becca Howell) argue with Ray, but mostly lovingly tolerate him. Adam’s late father owned originally owned the bar, and Ray was his best friend.

Besides, Adam and Janet have other things in their lives: the wedding, her job, his college studies. And the bar is slated to be demolished by the city. They can move on.

But then a stranger (Terry Gosdin) walks into the bar. Mostly silent, listening, but with his own apparent mystery. He orders two beers and places one at the barstool next to him. For an invisible buddy?

Yankee Tavern’s second act gets more serious. A conspiracy theory comes home, unfolding in real time and personally affecting all the characters.

The acting is superb in Falcon’s Yankee Tavern, starting with Weil’s portrayal of Ray. The Weil many Falcon patrons know is “disguised” by a big scruffy beard.  He proclaims Ray’s beliefs loudly and energetically to all who will listen, including radio talk shows. He’s a crackpot, but Weil also makes him likeable.

Daniels is so natural in his role of Adam that you believe him absolutely. Which makes the secrets he is keeping all the more believable.

Howell’s finest scenes come in Act 2, the dramatic meat of the play. Especially moving is a near-monologue about her connection to a 9/11 victim.

The playwright never lets us know exactly who Gosdin’s character is. CIA? FBI? More undercover than that? Gosdin plays it straight, understated, with absolute chilling certainty about the dangerous story he’s telling.

Yankee Tavern reminds us that conspiracy theories are compelling because there is just enough fact and seeming truth to make you believe the story could be true.

Special kudos to set designer Tracy M. Schoster, who also directed, and prop designer Kaitrin McCoy. The set for this aging tavern set is amazingly believable, from the beer signs to ancient juke box, cash register and even cigarette machine.

Yankee Tavern continues Thursday-Saturday through Oct. 13 at Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St., Newport. Tickets are available at 513-479-6783 or at http://falcontheater.net.

 

 

 

NKU Theatre Makes a Big Splash with “Big Fish”

Review by Spenser Smith of Big Fish: NKU Theatre

Northern Kentucky University opens its current season with the John August/Andrew Lippa musical based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the 2003 film directed by Tim Burton. The show selection seems an interesting choice, since the focal point of the story is a father/son relationship that could stretch believability considering that no cast member is over the age of twenty three. You’ll realize soon enough that if you, like me, thought you could leave your imagination at home it’ll be much to your chagrin.

The story shifts throughout between the past and the present. In the present, an elderly Edward Bloom (Collin Newton) faces his mortality while his son Will (Matthew Nassida) prepares to become a father himself. Will’s wife Josephine (Sara Cox) is pregnant before they get married and Edward has to promise not to tell anyone before they get to announce the news. In the storybook past, we see Edward age on stage, encountering a Witch, a Giant, a Mermaid, and the love of his life, Sandra (Adria Whitfill). The stories intersect as Will begins to discover the secrets of reality that were lost in his father’s imaginative stories. That confusion between what was real and what was fantasy is the cause of Will’s continued frustration when trying to come to terms with his father’s mortality.

Newton and Nassida have great chemistry that is tested throughout the show. Their vocal anger battle in “River Between Us” makes their characters’ impending lives without one another that much more heartbreaking. It delivers, despite the fact that, like the Titanic, we know what’s gonna happen. Some vocal lines are clearly out of Newton’s range, but he navigates those difficulties without further harm. Whitfill, as family matriarch Sandra Bloom, couldn’t have a more perfect motherly persona. And that voice. Good God. Her performance of “I Don’t Need a Roof” is the most perfectly polished and simple moment of the whole show.

Director Jamey Strawn has assembled a strong ensemble cast. He navigates the emotional difference between big, flashy ensemble numbers and small, intimate moments with precise detail. The six-person orchestra, conducted by Damon Stevens, navigates big ensemble numbers and intimate solos with ease. For this production they are on stage, behind the set, but the blend between music and vocals is well-balanced. I’m not sure why they were placed within view, but it wasn’t distracting. Steven’s meticulous vocal direction is on supreme display in “Little Lamb from Alabama.”

I wish the story focused more on the relationship between Will and Josephine and their fact-finding mission to uncover the truth of Edward’s past. The first act is ninety minutes and I think we could spend less time in Edwards stories and not sacrifice any plot details. It does feel like some moments are completely unnecessary. A little research shows that the song list from the Broadway production and the licensed production being produced at NKU are somewhat different. This tells me that the original production team wasn’t quite certain of the structure either.

My critique of the show itself has no bearing on the performance of the cast on stage at NKU. I knew nothing about the show before seeing the Sunday matinee and when I got home, I immediately bought the cast album. The show has its flaws, but when you strip away Edwards imaginative stories and look at his relationship with his family and their personal journey you get a glimpse of the real beauty. This show requires a full emotional arc from its actors and the students at NKU do not disappoint. In fact, tissues are recommended. If you find yourself without one, hopefully you’ve worn a long-sleeved shirt.

Big Fish continues at the Corbett Theatre on the campus of Northern Kentucky University through October 7.

For tickets, call 859-572-5464 or visit theatre.NKU.edu.

Question Everything–Except the Great Performances in Falcon’s “Yankee Tavern”

Review by Jack Crumley of Yankee Tavern: Falcon Theatre

I’ll start with a confession: I’ve always been kind of suspicious about the New England Patriots winning the first Super Bowl right after 9/11. It just seemed a little too convenient. Trite. That’s mild in the grand scheme of the conspiracy theories that are laid out in Yankee Tavern, now playing at the Falcon Theatre.

Yankee Tavern is a 2007 play by Steven Dietz. It’s set in a New York bar run by Adam, who’s taken over for his late father. His fiancee, Janet, helps out as he goes to school, and then there’s Ray. Ray was a friend of Adam’s father, and Ray is a CHARACTER. He’s a character in the play, but his character is a CHARACTER. Ray’s got a lot of opinions about the way things really are. He knows humanity has been to the moon, but it’s a secret and invisible moon. He’s suspicious of his own sneezes. And when 9/11 comes up, he has a lot of ideas about what really happened. He’s so full of conspiracy theories that Adam is secretly writing his thesis about them, positing that they’re just as destructive as the terror attack itself. This is all overheard by Palmer, a guy who just happens to be in the bar when this conversation starts. Yankee Tavern is a play about the conspiracy theories involving 9/11, but the larger message is about how people deal with things out of their control; how having a wild, conspiratorial understanding of what appears to be a random event is more appealing than accepting the chaos of life.

Not unlike my recent viewing of A Few Good Men at the Covedale, this is an extremely dialogue-heavy play. Each character has at least one monologue, and Ray, played by Ted J Weil, is pretty much nothing but monologues. Weil, also a Falcon Theatre founder and its Producing Artistic Director, delivers line after line in a genuine, believable, often affable way (but also crazy). He’s outstanding in this production. It’s so much fun, especially in the first act, to watch him kibitz and argue with the other characters. As effortlessly as he regales the bar with his theories, he also has genuine, tender moments that are equally believable.

Adam is played by Kyle Parker Daniels in his Falcon Theatre debut. As the show progresses, his character has to swing from being a rational working student to being caught up in (or possibly helping drive) a sinister plot full of international intrigue. Adam is a character whose secrets are exposed over the course of the show, and Daniels’ performance evolves to make the character more complex with each revelation.

Becca Howell plays Janet. Much like Adam, Janet’s character goes through an evolution in the play that really pushes her emotionally. Howell plays Janet with a confidence that is tested and eroded and is ultimately crumbled. Her character, more than any other, is forced to deal with surprising loss, and she shows the audience how understandable it is for someone to insist on the least likely version of a story as the truth. One of my favorite things about her performance was her voice. She goes from conversational to critical to terrified to determined all in her tone.

Rounding out the cast is Terry Gosdin as Palmer, a mysterious man who shows up in the bar, and becomes the source of Janet’s pain (or at least the person who informs her of it). Palmer doesn’t say much in Act I, but I found myself occasionally glancing at him and he did a great job of keeping himself busy while sitting at the bar. His character also has a significant arc: from being a random barfly to seething menace. From the minute he appears on stage, there’s a sense that there’s more to him than meets the eye.

The Falcon Theatre is a small space, but it’s perfectly suited for this fairly intimate show. The stage was very well dressed as a small, hole-in-the-wall bar. Whenever the front door opened, the sound of traffic outside could be heard, and the couple key uses of a spotlight were well-done. The air conditioning in the theatre is loud, but for this show, it was easy to write off as city noise.

Audiences will have plenty of ideas to reflect on once the show ends. In addition to whatever feelings about 9/11 they may already have, Yankee Tavern also presents a story that makes you question the very nature of stories. What ultimately happens to these characters can be questioned through the prism of knowing who is telling the story. The director, Tracy M Schoster, has framed this production with the message “be careful what you wish for, or in this case, be careful what you believe.”

Yankee Tavern is playing at the Falcon Theatre, 636 Monmouth St in Newport, Kentucky, on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays now through October 13. Tickets are available by calling 513-479-6783 or FalconTheatre.net