Different Stages’ Yankee Tavern

This production of Steven Dietz’s play offers a deep dive into what we choose to believe and a stimulating evening of theatre

Bill Karnovsky (l) and Will Douglas in Yankee Tavern (Photo by Bret Brookshire)

The setting is a dive bar on the ground floor of an abandoned motel, somewhere in New York City in 2006. It's the kind of place that exists only in the past, in season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and in plays like Steven Dietz's Yankee Tavern. A meeting ground of past and present, it's the right kind of place to stage a play that's about belief and disbelief.

Adam (Will Douglas) is a graduate student who inherited the establishment from his late father. His fiancée Janet (Kelsey Mazak) wants him to be done with the place, but he perseveres in tending the bar in the face of imminent demolition. Partly that's because Yankee Tavern is the second home of his father's friend Ray (Bill Karnovsky), whose first home is upstairs in one of the abandoned rooms.

Ray has a thing for conspiracy theories: the JFK assassination, the moon landing, all the classics up to and including 9/11. He has no trouble believing the police report that Adam's father killed himself, when Adam himself is not so sure, but he refuses to believe any official explanations about what happened in 2001. It aggravates Adam and Janet to no end. Then one day a man named Palmer (Greg Ginther) arrives in the bar and orders two beers, leaving one of them untouched. He claims to have extra information about 9/11.

This isn't a play about 9/11. Yes, the characters talk about the details surrounding those events at length, but it's really a play about what we choose to believe. Staging the play now is entirely topical, in light of how fragmented America's relationship with objective fact has become. Listening to long minutes of Ray's theories of powerful corporate and governmental forces secretly arrayed against us all might hit some audiences in just the right intellectual spot. For others, like this reviewer, who find themselves exhausted by the realities of confirmation bias and how it's gotten us where we are, the extended discussion of how nobody official can be trusted is fatiguing and feels not unlike something off either an op-ed page or the comments section, depending on where you get your news.

Regardless of where you are emotionally with the subject, it's executed well in the script and in performance. Director Norman Blumensaadt has assembled a good cast for the Different Stages production. As Palmer, Ginther especially strikes the right combination of sympathetic and downright creepy. The design team has very effectively reproduced the feel of the stuck-in-time bar, examples of which I'd list for Austin except they've all been torn down now to build mixed-use condos.

Yankee Tavern is a solid production of a layered script with good actors. For those eager for a deep dive into their relationship with the truth and how they form beliefs, it makes for a stimulating evening of theatre.

Yankee Tavern

Santa Cruz Theatre, 1805 E. Seventh, 512/926-6747
Through April 14
Running time: 2 hr.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Different Stages
Different Stages' <i>Gliders</i>
Different Stages' Gliders
Rita Anderson's domestic drama sets one family's frictions against the backdrop of the Apollo 11 mission

Robert Faires, Feb. 28, 2020

Different Stages' <i>The Book Club Play</i>
Different Stages' The Book Club Play
This production captures both the cringeworthy humor and drama of its characters in a mockumentary for the stage

Trey Gutierrez, March 29, 2019

More Arts Reviews
Hyde Park’s <i>My H-E-B</i> Shows Humanity, Explored
Hyde Park’s My H-E-B Shows Humanity, Explored
Like the store, in this work the people matter

Cat McCarrey, June 14, 2024

Review: “Flatland Revisited” at Lydia Street Gallery
Review: “Flatland Revisited” at Lydia Street Gallery
Dreaming young girls and reimagined worlds run rampant in new solo exhibit

Meher Qazilbash, June 14, 2024

More by Elizabeth Cobbe
Book Review: <i>Network Effect</i> by Martha Wells
Book Review: Network Effect by Martha Wells
In this first full-length novel featuring Murderbot, the violent but endearing rogue AI is back for more adventures to delight "all the stupid humans"

July 31, 2020

Sad Girls Productions’ <i>So Lucky</i>
Sad Girls Productions' So Lucky
This world premiere from a brand-new company lacks polish, but it does honor its community’s stories

March 20, 2020


Different Stages, Steven Dietz, Norman Blumensaadt, Greg Ginther, Will Douglas, Kelsey Mazak, Bill Karnovsky

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle