April 14, 2010
In conjunction with the Indiana Repertory Theatre, the Phoenix Theatre currently has a show by playwright Steven Dietz on stage. The Phoenix's show, "Yankee Tavern," is a conspiracy-fueled drama set in a New York City bar.
It was fascinating to compare the two shows. The plots were diametrically opposite, but the rapid flow of dialogue was the same. Dietz's writing style was hard to miss. Both plays dealt with serious issues, while maintaining a sense of humor.
"Yankee Tavern" centers on a grad student, Adam, who runs his deceased father's bar. Shane Chuvalas walks the line between cynic and believer as Adam. He's struggling not only to finish his thesis, but also to find closure from his father's death. His fiancée, Janet, (Carrie Schlatter), has grown impatient with his indecision and is beginning to question his true goals in life.
Adam's dad's best friend, Ray, is a regular at the tavern and spews out an endless stream of conspiracy theories on everything from Starbucks (a cult in a cup) to weddings (retail retaliation). Stephen Hunt is perfectly cast as the slightly mad, but lovable, Ray. During the first half of the show he jumps from one topic to another, throwing out far-fetched ideas, finally settling upon the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The aura of mystery grows as a silent patron at the bar pipes up with his own thoughts on that doomed day.
The set, designed by Linda Janosko, felt so authentic that it was hard to remember it wasn't a real bar. Vintage album covers hung on the walls and the beer bottles were plentiful. The whole show takes places within the tavern, so the stage was completely converted.
In the second half of the show the humor is put on hold as the conspiracy takes center stage. Tipping the scales in this way made the show lose some of its entertaining momentum. Though it's interesting to hear bits and pieces of 9/11 theories during the show, the more important goal to questioning the value or harm of all conspiracies. The question the show raises is, what effect do these theories have on the public's faith in authority? Ray wonders aloud which has more damage, the 9/11 attacks or the theories that followed, encouraging the nation to question everything the government tells us. There's something wonderful about a play that leaves the audience with questions. It's certainly a show that will fuel discussion long after the final bow.
Don't Miss the Show
For more information about the Phoenix Theatre, visit www.phoenixtheatre.org. The theater is located at 749 N. Park Ave., Indianapolis, just off Massachusetts Ave.
Performances: The show runs until May 1 and offers four performances a week. Thursdays begin at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturdays begin at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
Tickets: To purchase tickets, call (317) 635-PLAY (7529). Prices range from $15 to $20.
Photos Courtesy of the Phoenix Theatre.