Right up there on the hit parade with the likes of Edward Albee and Arthur Miller, Stephen Dietz, with 35 plays to his credit, was the eighth-most-performed playwright in America last year. Teaching playwriting and directing at the University of Texas Austin and dividing his time between Austin and Seattle, Dietz’s name might be familiar to you.
Becky’s New Car, (2008) commissioned for ACT Theatre was performed a couple of years ago at Edmonds’ Phoenix Theatre. The Phoenix also performed More Fun Than Bowling (1986) last season.
In contrast to these two comedies, Yankee Tavern displays another side of Dietz. An intelligent drama, Yankee Tavern is tailor-made for Driftwood’s Theatre of Intriguing Possibilities Series.
How to explain this play? The best analogy I can come up with uses music.
Start with the sweet refrain of young love — a romance in its infancy. Janet and Adam (Geena Pietromonaco and James Hamilton) have a love that’s innocent and pure, or is it? Mounting evidence suggests something else. Perhaps Adam is not what he appears to be. How long will Janet allow herself to be deceived? Love is a powerful enchantment.
About 16 bars in, crashing down upon the sweet melody, is Conspiracy Theory Ray (played with an exuberant intensity by Driftwood veteran Tod Harrick).
Suddenly our sweet melody becomes a discordant duet. Ray enters like a bull in a china shop, dragging all the spotlights with him, sucking all the air from the room — a giant bag full of crazy… or is he?
With the entrance of Palmer (Sean Morrone), our discordant duet becomes a trio. Who is this mysterious stranger who orders two Rolling Rock beers, only to leave one untouched — a tribute to his fallen comrade?
As his story unfolds, we discover yet another layer of intrigue. Is his presence at the quiet dive bar merely a coincidence?
Dietz explores the quagmire of what is true, what is real. We are left pondering concepts like fidelity, belief, betrayal and deception. The setting itself, a dive bar housed in a building slated for destruction, seems to be an apt metaphor for the environment these characters inhabit — each trying desperately to hold on to what’s left of a reliable world in their own tenuous way.
Yankee Tavern is disquieting, perhaps even disturbing at times. Revisiting the tragedy of 9/11 is probably no one’s idea of a good time. Discovering that everything you know is wrong? Probably also not that high up on your list of goals.
But Yankee Tavern is expertly performed, unvarnished, intelligent, thought-provoking theatre at its best. Hats off to director Paul Fouhy for putting it all together.
If you could use a little intellectual stimulation, if you believe the adage that the unexamined life isn’t worth living — here’s an opportunity to live it up!
By Steven Dietz
Directed by Paul Fouhy
Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m.
Sunday 2 p.m.
Get tickets at https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?ticketing=drift
— By James Spangler