BWW Reviews: YANKEE TAVERN at ACT

August 7
2:50 PM 2010

BWW_Reviews_YANKEE_TAVERN_at_ACT_20010101

Seattle's ACT  is currently presenting the Seattle Premiere of Steven Dietz's "Yankee Tavern"  And although they are billing this as a political thriller, I kept wondering when the thrills were going to come.

The show focuses on the denizens of a rundown bar, The Yankee Tavern, in the middle of New York.  The hotel above it is condemned and the wrecking ball is imminent.  Adam, an aspiring International Affairs grad student, runs the bar he has inherited from his late father.  He's joined by his fiancée, Janet and the lone regular of the bar, Ray, a conspiracy nut who has a theory on everything from the moon landing, to marriage as a tool for retail outlets.  And of course he has his theories on 9/11, so when a mysterious stranger, Palmer, comes into the bar and begins letting small tidbits about his own supposed involvement with the disaster at the World Trade Center slip out, Ray is more than a little intrigued.  But just what is Palmer's real connection and why has he come into this bar?  That's what Dietz is hoping we care about.  Problem is there is little to make us care.  The characters are trite clichés with little to no depth or complexity and the dialog comes across as forced and hackneyed.  The story really never goes anywhere and just when you think it will, Dietz puts in a twist that could be clever if we were invested but really comes across as if he had seen too many episodes of "Alias".  But then, that's what the ending of the show feels like, a cliffhanger at the end of a TV show wanting desperately to continue.  I'm all for leaving the audience in a play guessing with a big reveal but this reveal was so predictable and fell with a thud.  And yet, I could almost hear Dietz muttering to himself, "I am so clever". 

But even a mediocre script can soar with a good cast right?  Yes it can, as long as that cast is into what they are saying.  But the cast here never really connects with each other and so neither do we.  Which is surprising since most of them I've seen do much better work in other shows around town.  R. Hamilton Wright as Palmer has flashes of intrigue but is never given much to do with them.  Jennifer Lee Taylor is likeable as the fiancée caught in the middle of this subterfuge but is given little to work with from her counterpart of Adam (Shawn Telford).  And Charles Leggett as Ray, who I always find fun, comes across as a one note conspiracy nut.  I really wanted the script to lend itself to more levels for him.

But then, a lot of this I might attribute to the direction by the author himself.  I always get a little wary when playwrights direct their own stuff.  There's just a problem getting enough distance from the piece to actually see what's happening on stage.  And that was the problem here and because of that the show felt flat.

So all in all, a somewhat interesting story with little point in the end, executed just OK.  I really expect more from ACT.  Unless this was some sort of conspiracy to make other shows look better but I doubt it.

"Yankee Tavern" plays at Seattle's ACT through August 29th.  For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.

Photo Credit: Chris Bennion

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