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
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.
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
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.
CIRCLE THEATER’S GOT IT ALTOGETHER
Serving up a Mamet sizzler in a
Benson Pizza shop
Circle Theater stays alive and well, heating
up an evening by digging into David Mamet’s
1988 movie-biz zinger Speed the Plow.
Dynamic acting talent permeates a
corner of a sometimes noisy pizza joint’s
back room stage...and so what if
there’s audible competition outside the door
sealing off the audience from happy diners?
The performances validate the visit!
Here we have another example of how the
tiny, casually-organized CIRCLE THEATRE
consistently frames first-class talent
in good scripts with quality shows equal to
the so-called "bigger" teams in our fields.
e.g In some kind of Mamet panorama these days , The Playhouse zonked Race to a fare-thee-well 6 months ago. And Blue Barn got every cent’s worth of value out of American Buffalo last month. Speed the Plow, FYI, comes loaded with the same Mamet hilarious verbal games as those recent examples: fast, sizzling guffaw-worthy dialogue, loaded with locker-room epithets while male wheelers and dealers do their damndest to score big. Dames? Yeah, sure. Sometimes they get their turns at bat.
Ryle Smith superbly directed this while also taking one of the three roles. Just three roles?
You ask. What the hell? May I remind you that Buffalo didn’t falter with the same amount. Two guys this time stay so loaded with snap and sass that were you to get a couple more like them, you’d have to turn on the air- conditioner to tamp down the sweat. As for the woman in this item, sometimes a quieter, softer voice can become a relief.
Smith makes every word, every gesture, every move count in both his staging and his acting. Put down your slice of Italian delight and hold off swallowing a big gulp of beer, lest you miss something or choke while chortling.
Bob Gould has just moved up in the film industry, becoming head of production at a major Hollywood studio. He has to find sure-fire scripts. Longtime pal and associate, Charlie Fox, glommed onto a new one, a product with major potential. Note the words: industry, production, product. This is not about art.
Art is OK but not essential, Mamet reminds us. Collecting dust in the ongoing renovation of Charlie’s office is a book which might have potential, should Bob ever read it. Instead, he gets his temp secretary Karen to look it over and come back late at night with her ideas so that he can finagle her into bed. What unfolds that evening, after the sheets, are different kinds of turn-arounds.
Mamet, of course, has Bob and Charlie euphemizing their biz with every kind of sexual image known to man, woman and beast. Cleverly making off-stage real sex seem just another potential power connection. Meanwhile Mamet pointedly has that book deal with a poisoned environment, a world in decay. Zap.
Smith’s Charlie stays edgy and
frenetic. A motor-mouthed dynamo
who still retains the immense
awareness to listen and react.
He moves, he jumps, he grins, he
grimaces. All believable. A character
study not to be missed.
As Bob, Robert Baker comes across
with equivalent vitality. He also
capably projects a subtle kind of
sleaze, especially when grinningly
encouraging Karen to pour her heart
out, awaiting getting near those
breasts nearby. Mamet has written
Bob with a slightly vulnerable
undertone, as if Bob may not be a full time cut-throat. Thereby could hang a death trap. See if you catch that in Baker’s take.
Beth Paprocki plays the complicated, multi-layered role of Karen beautifully and with a natural comic flair. Her ear for the difficult Mamet dialogue is sharp and she shines brightly in the role, superbly holding her own with her Baker and Smith.
Smith, by the way, wrote a few good program notes. Kudos.
As for the play’s title, Mamet explains that he remembered a saying about work and farming: “Industry produces wealth, God speed the plow,” adding that it also means having plow and plow again . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed-the-Plow
Consuming pizza, beer or other culinary standbys is not a requirement of this visit to the former dinner theatre company’s newest offering. But, if you have had an appetite for more Mamet, be assured, Circle Theater serves it up with style.
Speed the Plow presented by Circle Theatre continues through Nov. 22 at Pizza Shoppe Benson, 6056 Maple St. 8 p.m. 8 p.m. Tickets: $10-15. 402-553-4715c