A certain part of me thrives off of conspiracy theories. I’ll admit–it’s a malignantly nefarious part of me, one which dwells in the gallows of my brain and entertains tomfoolery that by all standards is ludicrous, if not downright harmful. Did the government manufacture or benefit from 9/11? Was LBJ a key player in the assassination of JFK (if, at the very least, to give him initial only name preeminence)? Was crack dispersed into lower socioeconomic communities by the government to fuel a war against poor African American men (this seems entirely to real to be pejoratively considered a “conspiracy,” but I digress)? These hypotheses fester, they gnaw, and ultimately, they never get resolved. Which is what makes them so masochistically enticing–they are the unsolvable puzzle, always teasing us with that one missing piece.
And therein too lies the strength of Throughline’s Production of Yankee Tavern, an adaptation of oft-lauded playwright Steven Dietz’s 2007 work. Yankee Tavern functions as an intensive introspection into the minds of individuals who steadfastly believe–or have been directly impacted by those who steadfastly believe–in the cosmos of conspiracy theories which encircle American history and lore. What is all the more compelling, though, is that this dramaturgical analysis of conspiracy theory phenomena is enveloped in a much more intimate framework–one in which a snapshot of a young couple’s harried engagement/wedding plans serves as a parallel for the distrust of American government and cookie-cutter history.
Much of the impact of Yankee Tavern is derived from the performances of its small but exquisitely talented cast. Malic Williams is sensational as Adam, the Masters student and soon-to-be-betrothed protagonist who has inherited his fathers pub as well as the oft-inebriated blowhard (a delightfully grandstanding Bob Rak) who frequents it (and was Adam’s father’s best friend before he passed). Williams is jocular when called for–informing his future wife Janet (an impassioned Ursula Asmus Sears) that the reason his wedding invites were all returned was because he made all of his past family and friends up to placate her is touchingly hilarious. But more importantly he is subtly ferocious and vulnerable–necessary qualities for the young man basing his thesis on 9/11 conspiracy theories as he is haunted by the ghost of what may have killed his father.
The acumen of the cast is tantamount to the play’s success, as it is, at times, a play that doesn’t quite find it’s cadence. This is certainly not to say that the play falters or fails, rather, the fervor of the narrative often gets carried away or misfires. The cast is impeccably relatable, though, which helps to reel the dialogue–particularly Sears, who’s painstaking assertiveness and scrutiny are so realistic, they evoke a very specific emotional response.
Begging to ask the question of which is more odious, the conspiracy or the invisible machine that propels the conspiracy, Yankee Tavern is a worthwhile 90ish minutes for anyone seeking entertainment with an aching sense of curiosity.
Special thanks to Throughline Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Yankee Tavern runs through November 5th, tickets and more information can be found here.
Photos courtesy of Throughline Theatre/Rick Moore.