There could be ghosts inhabiting abandoned floors above the Yankee Tavern. And the story of its previous owner who may have killed himself could add to the gloom and a sense of mystery. As the door swings open, you peer into the narrow confines of a place where conversation ranges far and wide regarding the awful event not far away on the sidewalks of New York. 9/11 is the main topic. Conspiracy is the theme that dominates center stage.
You needn’t be frightened. This is no Halloween-time gruesome trick- or- treat confrontation. It’s the play Yankee Tavern by Steven Dietz, interpreted by four Circle Theatre actors, ably conveying the fundamentals of the people they portray, articulating well Dietz’s explorations of the theme.
As the talk proliferates, more and more dwells on what may have happened under a dark cover of secrecy behind that never-to-be-forgotten American tragedy. Conversations meander as each of four persons seeks to know more. Convoluted ideas emerge; the main thrust of what transpires during 90 minutes. Questions provoke questions. Disappointingly, Dietz takes no stand. He doesn’t imply that such believers are fools. He also doesn’t do anything to underscore their theories. He certainly lays out a lot of them. Maybe he concurs. Maybe he just wants us to ponder them. He leaves it for you to decide. If you can follow. Not an easy task. Nor one you might think worth the bother, given that these four characters seem as shadowy as their beliefs. That could be the directing. That could be the playing.
Adam oversees the soon-to-be demolished bar. He’s a writer about politics and, evidently, has murky connections to someone behind the power scenes in Washington. His fiancée, Janet, (the program book incorrectly says she’s his wife) knows something about his background, yet still has secrets to discover. Ray, an older man who’s been inhabiting dilapidated quarters upstairs, has become obsessed with what he concludes actually occurred in now-mythological events in recent American history. He and visiting stranger Palmer mind-meld about 9/11, each seeming to know more than what most of the public has come to accept. Palmer, whose first name we never know…scary, huh?…also has secrets and appears to know others including some of Adam’s. This could be sinister. But not in this interpretation.
Ryle Smith directed and keeps the pace moving well. He also plays Adam with much insouciant charm without suggesting the more interesting hidden side of his life. David Sindelar’s version of Ray bubbles with likeable vitality. Opening night, though, he hadn’t found a way to overshadow Ray’s insignificant part in the little action taking place, not that Dietz made it easy. The equally underdeveloped Janet is given solid sincerity by Rose Glock. She too has a major task to develop the role more meaningfully. Kevin Barratt’s Palmer keeps him more matter-of-fact than sinister, a choice which diminishes him becoming the most interesting person of the four. In short, this play needs a stronger and more distinctive cast for it to work best.
The performance is in a commons room at First United Methodist Church. A small kitchen and some space in front of it serves as the bar. Due to the minimal set decoration, which could make it more bar-like, you may have to suspend disbelief. However, disbelief is at the core of what this is all about. You could give the conspiracy theories credence. Certainly the actors show that they believe who they portray and deliver the dialogue with conviction. They need to go deeper.
Dietz, without doubt, is a major American playwright. His thirty-plus plays have been produced across the U.S including Off-Broadway, as well as in Japan, Germany, France, Sweden, Russia, Argentina, Greece and South Africa. Dracula from 1996, recently exceptionally directed at UNO, is one of his much-produced scripts ones as is this one. His writing was Pulitzer-nominated for Last of the Boys and he won the Edgar Award for Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.www.samuelfrench.com/author/1686/steven-dietz)
Yankee Tavern continues through Oct 31 at First United Methodist Church, 7020 Cass Street. Fri. Sat. 8 p.m. Tickets: $10-$15. www.circletheatreomaha.org