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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Yankee Tavern: Wildly Paranoid Thriller

Also see Bob's reviews of The Last Fall and Manuscript

Yankee Tavern
Jim Shankman and Pheonix Vaughn
If you believe that the Bush administration collaborated with Saudi Arabia to engineer the 9/11 attack in order to "unleash a military build-up and consolidate the power of a floundering one term President who had lost the popular vote," I would posit that you are in serious need of help. On the other hand, you will have no problem with Yankee Tavern, the new Steven Dietz paranoid harangue and thriller on stage at the New Jersey Rep.

The play is set in 2006 in New York City in a ruin of a once quite comfortable bar which is awaiting the wrecking ball. The setting serves as a metaphor for the United States.

Adam, who has inherited the bar from his father, is a graduate student in international studies at Columbia University. His fiancée, Janet, works for a "foundation." A more central character than the latter is the unseen Farsi, Dr. Andjata. A former Columbia professor with whom Adam had an intimate relationship, Dr. Andjata has accepted a position with the federal government translating suspect terrorist emails. Adam is going to Washington, D.C. at her behest, supposedly to be introduced to people who can provide him with a job after his graduation. Somehow, the professor ... well, therein hangs the tale.

Ray, a bar "resident" in his 60s, spends most of the first act laying down a tangled and insubstantial web of events which "prove" various conspiracies. "Palmer," a middle-aged newcomer to the bar who is mostly silent for quite a while, may be a treacherous government agent.

Given the number of crackpot conspiracies to which Ray subscribes, it is possible that author Dietz has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek when he has Ray enumerate them. It could be that some of Ray's conspiracy theories are regarded more highly than others. Whatever the case, Dietz and/or director SuzAnne Barabas have some work to do in order to make Dietz's intention clearer. As things now stand, the first act of Yankee Tavern feels more like a conspiracy theorist's lecture than a satisfying play. Additionally, Ray's 9/11 theories appear to be borne out by the events of the melodramatic second act, and there remains that inescapable metaphoric Yankee Tavern.

In any event, Barabas adroitly ratchets up the chills and suspense in the second act, despite the unlikely plotting which makes Adam the repository of the truth about the conspiracy behind 9/11.

There is little flesh either on the characters or their interrelationships, but the cast—Jason Odell Williams (Adam), Pheonix Vaughn (Janet), Jim Shankman (Ray) and Michael Irvin Pollard (Palmer)—makes good use of the materials it has been given to generate some second act chills.

Yankee Tavern continues performances (Evenings: Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 pm/ Saturday 3 pm; Sunday 2 pm / Selected Sundays 7 pm – through May 23, 2010 at the New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740. Box Office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.

Yankee Tavern by Steven Dietz; directed by Suzanne Barabas

Cast

Adam.........................Jason Odell Williams
Janet................................Phoenix Vaughn
Ray.................................James Shankman
Palmer........................Michael Irvin Pollard


Photo: SuzAnne Barabas


Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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