September 11, 2001 was one of the most horrific days in American history. But what if there was a deeper, darker truth to what happened on that sad day? What are the ramifications of knowing the real truth? This is the thrust of Yankee Tavern by Steve Dietz and currently playing at the Circle Theatre.
I don’t usually go into a play blind. By that I mean I know the general story before I sit down to watch it. But the only knowledge I had of Yankee Tavern was that it centered around 9/11 and conspiracy theories. This play is far more than that. This play is an exciting mystery thriller with comedic undertones that will keep you on the edge of your seat as it twists and turns with compelling characters and electric dialogue until the final moment.
Ryle Smith’s direction is a superior piece of work as he expertly navigates the ebbs and flows of this story, builds beautiful tension, and sets a firecracker pace. Smith has also directed fantastic performances from his cast of four with each having a sizzling chemistry with the others, making for a sensational ensemble experience.
Smith also does double duty by playing the role of Adam Graves, an adjunct instructor and political writer who also owns the titular Yankee Tavern. Smith’s Adam is an incredibly multifaceted character. He’s a bit of a prankster as he messes with his wife, Janet (played by Rose Glock), by making up fake guests to invite to their upcoming anniversary party. Smith also bestows a wonderful intelligence and logic on Adam which is best demonstrated in his verbal spars with his late father’s best friend, Ray (played by David Sindelar) as they debate about what really happened on 9/11.
But Adam also carries his share of darkness and secrets as he is unable to accept his father’s suicide and has a connection with a former female boss which may be far more than employer/employee. Smith handles these heavier moments with equal sureness, especially in a climactic argument with Janet in Act II.
David Sindelar gives an award worthy performance in the role of Ray. A self-professed “itinerant homesteader”, Ray, at first, seems like he’s going to be the kooky comedy relief as he lives in the abandoned Yankee Hotel, talks with ghosts, and sees conspiracies everywhere. But once Ray and Adam start arguing over 9/11, that’s when you see this character’s true intellect.
Ray’s arguments are amazingly persuasive because they are grounded in logic and verifiable facts. You may not necessarily believe them, but it does give you something to think about. The arguments are helped by Sindelar’s sincere delivery. Sindelar also gets to show some pathos and depth when he talks about why his wife left him and the events of his best friend’s last day of life which demonstrate why Ray’s world is preferable to real life.
It is an arduous role because Ray likes to talk, dissect, analyze, and expound. The sheer bulk of the dialogue caused Sindelar to trip on his lines on a couple of occasions, but he didn’t let it slow him down or get him off track.
Rose Glock is, at turns, sweet, harried, and haunted as Janet. Janet is on the same intellectual plane as Adam and Ray and is able to hold her own in their conspiracy theory debates. But she also has a peculiar form of survivor’s guilt because she didn’t lose anybody in 9/11 which leads to a relationship with an unseen character that causes Janet to have an intense loathing of secrets. Ms Glock handles the emotional beats of the character well and really gets to shine in Act II with intense showdowns with Adam and the mysterious Palmer.
Kevin Barratt’s interpretation of Palmer is underplayed mastery. He rarely speaks in Act I, but has a hypnotic presence. He sits quietly at the bar with two Rolling Rocks, toasts an unseen companion, and seems to be grappling with a heavy burden. Barratt has tremendously animated eyes that let you watch his shifting emotions without him uttering a single word. When he finally does speak, he is so soft spoken and earnest that it’s hard to determine if he’s a crackpot or if he truly does know things that he probably shouldn’t know.
Barratt really ramps things up in act II during a prolonged verbal battle with Janet over Adam and his possible connection to a potential key figure in 9/11. What I found utterly fascinating about Barratt’s take on Palmer is that he is looking for absolution, not revenge. He has knowledge that he would rather not have, but must seek the truth out to the end for the sake of his soul.
There are few things I love more than a good mystery and this play gave that to me and then some. This show is about so much more than whether there was more to 9/11 than met the eye. It is a show about the secrets we keep from each other and that is something that will strike the heart of anybody who watches this play.
Yankee Tavern has one final performance on October 30 at 8pm. The Circle Theatre is producing this show at First United Methodist Church at 7020 Cass Street in Omaha, NE. For reservations, contact the Circle at 402-553-4715 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets cost $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, and $10 for students, active military, and T.A.G. members.