The ArtsDwindling conversation
Through Nov. 8 at Orlando Shakespeare Theater
812 E. Rollins St.
In the Yankee Tavern, a crumbling neighborhood bar on the ground floor of a condemned building in lower Manhattan, Ray (Jim Ireland), a wistful, fast-talking eccentric in threadbare clothes, rambles on and on about the many conspiracies he sees in the world around him: Weddings are the invention of big-box stores; the fall of the Berlin Wall was a Disney-Kremlin co-creation; the lunar landing was real only in the sense that astronauts landed on a parallel moon.
But Ray saves most of his vitriolic commentary for the 9/11 disaster and its subsequent cover-up, pushing Adam (Zack Robidas), the son of Rayís best friend and the tavernís proprietor, and Adamís fiancée, Janet (Katherine Skelton), to their limits of tolerance. Yes, they agree, Ray has many fine points to make in his diatribe against accepting the conventional wisdom about the perpetrators of the most devastating attack on the homeland since Pearl Harbor, but like many conspiracy theorists, Ray just goes too far, undermining his truly cogent arguments with a substructure of imaginative fancy.
When a mysterious stranger named Palmer (Tom Nowicki) enters the bar, seeming to confirm some of Rayís speculations, the stage is set for a thought-provoking political thriller, with several interesting subplots concerning the playís four characters. This is the promise of playwright Steven Dietzís Yankee Tavern, now in production at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, under the direction of Anne Hering.
Unfortunately, the promise is never kept. After setting up all the requisite postulates in Act 1, Dietz, somewhat like Ray, simply goes off the rails in Act 2. None of the charactersí relationships get explained, and the plot dissolves into more questions without answers about Adamís involvement with a shady academic who may or may not have had some prior knowledge about the planning of 9/11. By the playís abrupt end, Dietz has painted himself into a corner, leaving his audience uninformed, unenlightened and unsatisfied.
If Dietzís plan was to emphasize the fact that we can never really know the truth about 9/11, or for that matter any of the great conundrums of history (like the Kennedy assassination), thanks, but we already knew that going in. And unlike Monty Python, who reserve the right to simply suspend a sketch while segueing into another, a playwright with Dietzís talent owes us a more comprehensive and logical wrapping up of his tale.
Although Heringís direction is first-rate and the acting terrific, there is an emptiness at the heart of Yankee Tavern that yearns for another draft Ė and in this bar, itís not a Rolling Rock that is called for.