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.