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