By Tom Titus
Conspiracy theorists will discover plenty of raw meat to chew on if they drop into “Yankee Tavern,” winding up its two-weekend engagement at Golden West College this weekend (March 13-15).
Playwright Steven Dietz has delved into several plausible revelations surrounding major historical events (the JFK assassination, the moon landing, etc.), but he’s more concerned here with the events of September 11, 2001 – and who knew what, and when. His forum is a New York bar where such theories are served up regularly along with the beer and booze.
Against this backdrop, director Tom Amen has chosen a stellar four-character cast to spin this fantastic-sounding yarn which ultimately asks more questions than it answers – including the play’s very last line. You’ll leave the theater not knowing what to believe.
Adam (Brock Joseph) is a young man who has inherited this long-established midtown joint from his murdered father. He and his fiancee Janet (Mia-Bella Josimovic) are planning a wedding which itself has an air of mystery, starting with all the phony names on the groom’s guest list.
A regular customer (Michael Bielitz) – so regular he has a key to the establishment and his drinks are on the house – enthralls the others with his conspiracy tales that border on the supernatural. And a lone patron (Paul Jasser) drops in and orders two beers – the second for his absent friend, a victim of 9/11.
Joseph garnishes his normal-appearing character with revelations from his past, as well as his father’s, which cast uncertainty over his coming nuptials. His scenes with his lady love are sincere, on the surface, but nothing in this play is quite as it seems.
Josimovic has the show’s only “straight” role, a young woman desperately striving to maintain her relationship with Adam even while elements are introduced (by the stranger) that threaten their happiness. She projects dedication and sincerity in the face of such threats.
The play’s wild card is Bielitz’s Ray, an aging, garrulous barfly who spins tales and theories that sound incredulous, but gain credence as the story progresses. Bielitz, a veteran actor on the GWC stage and elsewhere, delivers a superb portrayal of this most difficult character, who may inspire images of Walter Brennan in more seasoned audience members.
Jasser has fewer than a handful of lines in the play’s first act, but he returns in the second to dominate the stage, particularly in his scenes with Josimovic as he unveils information about Adam’s character calculated to shock the young man’s fiancee. He also is the most mysterious member of the foursome, an outsider armed with more knowledge than he should possess.
The tavern itself – beautifully designed and appointed by Sigrid Hammer Wolf – functions as a fifth character in the show, especially its juke box which gave up the ghost on that fateful September day and has remained silent ever since.
“Yankee Tavern,” which will be new to most playgoers, is an intriguing and captivating examination of recent historical events combined with an engaging present-day drama. It’s a show that’ll keep you guessing well past the final curtain at Golden West College. Call (714) 895-8150 for ticket information.
– tt –