Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 17, 2016

Yankee Tavern

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA 
through June 25, 2016
by R.E. Smith

There is no denying that Steven Dietz’s “Yankee Tavern” deals with topics and questions that are especially relevant to today's political climate. Set in New York City in 2006, this four character piece finds that the repercussions of 911 are still keenly felt, in both broad and subtle ways. It also posits that everybody has secrets, whether they're bartenders or governments. What “Tavern” doesn't have is a script that is quite as clever as it strives to be.

Back-stories are parceled out strictly for their “wow” factor, with intriguing bits thrown about and left unexplored. Motivations are often contradictory and muddled, existing not to deepen the mystery but because they make for easy plot propulsion. The young romantic leads of Adam and Janet are given so little genuine emotional interaction that when one character tells another “he really loved you,” someone in the audience whispered, “Did he really?”

The two other characters are better served in their opposite but equal authority roles. Ray, an old friend of Adam’s father has a paranoid explanation for everything. The mysterious Palmer also has specious information to impart but from behind the curtain itself. Between the two, just about every conceivable 911 conspiracy is aired. But because Ray also rants about the machinations of the wedding industry, Starbucks and the moon landing, his more reasoned arguments carry less weight.  But Michael Dell’Orto is an audience favorite with his addled but sentimental portrayal. As befits a possible black ops worker, John Kooi has better luck speaking with quiet authority due to his understated, contained demeanor.

While the rundown barroom setting is nicely realized in execution, it is laid out so literally that the blocking of the action is hamstrung. Too many lines are delivered up stage, backs turned, with long stretches of action taking place behind the bar or seated at a table.

“Yankee Tavern” certainly posits some unique theories and asks enough questions to get and keep the audience thinking throughout the evening. But the show is the summer theater equivalent of a quick thriller beach read. There's just enough going on to keep your interest, but as weighty as it wants to be, it is still a paperback.