Usually when I go to review a show, I avoid Googling its plot or reading other reviews beforehand. I prefer the tabula rasa approach – going into it with the proverbial clean slate, not knowing what to expect. When it’s an original play like the Chenango River Theatre’s current production of “Yankee Tavern,” I have no choice but to head into it blind. And often that’s a good thing – having to figure out plots and character motivations on the fly, with no preconceived notions of what’s coming next.
With “Yankee Tavern,” I went into the second act having no idea where this play was going. To say that this one takes some byzantine turns is an understatement. And while some of those turns had me scratching my head, it certainly kept me on the edge of my seat.
Written by Steven Dietz and directed by CRT’s Bill Lelbach, “Yankee Tavern” is set in, predictably, the Yankee Tavern, in the Bronx, circa 2006. That’s pretty much where the predictability ends. As it begins, I was thinking “Yankee Tavern” would be a romantic comedy, as we first meet beleaguered bar owner Adam (Colin Blackard), who’s inherited the rundown watering hole from his late father, and his plucky fiancee Janet (Rebecca Blaine Carton), who’s enmeshed in planning their upcoming nuptials, bride-to-be nuttiness included. Then we meet bar fly Ray (Jim Wicker) and old friend of Adam’s dad and apparently the tavern’s sole remaining customer. Ray’s a bit of a nutjob, as most barflies are, this one particularly obsessed with conspiracy theories. About everything.
We quickly move from a wedding invitation fiasco to a lengthy diatribe on the multitudinous conspiracy theories behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. What begins as bar room chatter takes a darker turn with the arrival of a mysterious stranger, Palmer (Steve Patterson), who has secrets of his own. The romantic comedy elements give way to glimpses of mistrust in Adam and Janet’s relationship, and it becomes apparent that Ray’s wild conspiracy theories are not as off the wall as they initially seem.
By the end of Act One, I still had no idea where this story was going. As soon as the lights went up on Act Two, “Yankee Tavern” turned into something of a spy thriller – again a turn I wasn’t expecting. Everyone’s got their secrets in this play – including the bar itself – and watching them unravel is a thrilling ride. You surprised me, “Yankee Tavern,” and that doesn’t happen often.
The Chenango River Theatre Company’s last show of the season, “Yankee Tavern” runs through Oct. 28. For ticket information, see www.chenangorivertheatre.org.
Backing up, I had the pleasure of seeing The Reduced Shakespeare Company perform “The Complete History of America – Abridged” last Friday night at the Palace Theater in Hamilton. I’d seen the company’s raucous run-through of all of William Shakespeare’s works (again, abridged) in various forms over the years, so I was excited to see a brand new work by the troupe. Sadly, I probably know more about Shakespeare than I do American History, but this comedic rendition of our country’s illustrious past gave me a crash course in nation-building, if skewed a tad by screwball comedy. The Palace Theater is a terrific venue in nearby Hamilton, and if you haven’t checked it out, you really should. They stage a wide variety of performances in their season, and have their very own acting troupe, as well. For more information, see www.palacetheater.org.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in not reminding you about some terrific entertainment coming up this weekend right here in Norwich. Of course, it’s Pumpkin Fest weekend – the 14th annual – a little earlier this year to avoid (hopefully) the bad weather curse. We did a special section preview of the festivities in Thursday’s edition, and Shawn Magrath wraps it up for you again on today’s front page. In addition to all things pumpkin, Saturday also marks the beginning of the Chenango Arts Council’s performance season, starting off with a returning favorite – illusionist Jason Bishop at 7 p.m. at the West Main Street theater. Anyone who caught this talented (and truly funny) magician in his show here two years ago will tell you it’s not one to be missed this time around. Fun for the whole family, and phenomenal talent, to boot. See www.chenangoarts.org for ticket information. Looks like it really will be a magical weekend in Chenango County.
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