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REVIEW: Yankee Tavern at Main Stage West - by Harry Duke


Yankee Tavern at Main Stage West
 REVIEW by Harry Duke

The less said about Main Stage West’s “Yankee Tavern” (running now through February 23rd), the better.  No, it’s not that I don’t have anything ‘nice’ to say.  Far from it.  It’s just that the more I synopsize Stephen Dietz’s play, the more I quote his endlessly quotable dialogue, the more I explain what I thought was going on on-stage, the less pleasure you as an audience member will have to discover this show for yourself  and come to your own conclusions.  But I’ll give it a shot.

Illana Niernberger and Anthony Abate in Yankee TavernThe Yankee Tavern is a ground-floor bar in a soon-to-be demolished building not far from the site where the Twin Towers fell.   Adam (Tyler Costin) the tavern’s owner, is a student working on finishing his thesis and graduating, after which he’ll sell the bar and marry his fiancé (Illana Niernberger).  The tavern’s resident barfly Ray (John Craven) is a stereotypical conspiracy theorist, spouting off on everything from the faked moon landing to the evil that is Starbucks. The only other person to walk into the bar is a stranger (Anthony Abate’) known to no one, but who seems to have lot of inside info on 9/11 and, more importantly, a lot of inside info on Adam.

Conspiracies and cover-ups are at the heart of “Yankee Tavern” - national, international, and personal.  At the cold, dark center of that heart is a particularly devastating bit of dialogue, which I can’t resist quoting. Sorry, it’s just too damn good not to quote, and it also serves to give you an idea of how Dietz challenges his audience.  

You see, the one conspiracy Ray does not believe in is the Kennedy assassination.  No, he believes the real conspiracy was the conspiracy itself -  “Oh, the brilliant persuasion! – orchestrated by hands still unknown to this day! It is the mother of all conspiracies: When an entire nation is led to believe something completely different than the thing they have seen for themselves! And the raw genius of that strategy changed the world. Not because a promising young man with good hair was taken out of his prime, but because – from that moment on – this country never again trusted its own eyes and ears.”  

Tyler Costin and John Craven in Yankee TavernWhat I believe my eyes and ears saw and heard was a compelling interpretation of a terrific script by four talented actors under the direction of Elizabeth Craven.  Tyler Costin, last seen dancing and singing his way across the Spreckels stage in “Brigadoon”, brings a lightness to Adam that grows ever more dark as the play progresses. Ilana Niernberger’s Janet may very well be the embodiment of the above quote, as someone who doesn’t trust, or deliberately chooses not to trust, her own eyes and ears.  John Craven certainly has the look of a barfly down pat, and he takes up the challenge of delivering several lengthy conspiracy-based monologues with an appropriate mixture of gusto and resignation.  Anthony Abate’ spends a lot of time sitting at the bar and saying nothing, but watch out – he has something to say.

“Yankee Tavern” is being advertised as “mystery thriller” and I think that may be a disservice.   If those terms conjure up images of action, you might be disappointed, as “Yankee Tavern” is as dialogue-intensive a script as I have seen in quite a while and its one moment of ‘action’, quite frankly, doesn’t ring true.  If those terms conjure up images of plays like “Deathtrap” or “And Then There Were None”, you might be very disappointed.  While those are perfectly serviceable plays in which their “mysteries” are very neatly tied up at the end, nothing is tied up at the end of “Yankee Tavern”.  Or is it?

“Yankee Tavern” is the type of show you can go to with a group of friends, become completely invested in over two hours, look at each other when it’s over,  get up out of your seats, walk to the nearest bar,  and then have a great post-show conversation  over a couple of drinks.  I highly recommend you do just that.  Just don’t be surprised if you end up agreeing to disagree about what you just watched. I don’t think Deitz would have it any other way.

Paul Gilger's Yankee tavern Set

Yankee Tavern

Thu/Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun @ 5pm through February 23rd

Thursdays are “Pay What You Will” Night

Main Stage West
104 N Main St
Sebastopol, CA 95472
(707) 823-0177 

Set Photo by Paul Gilger

Scene Photos by E. Craven


Harry Duke Live Theater Reviews