THE BASICS: Steven Dietz' edgy comedy/politcal thriller is getting its New York premiere this month at the Kavinoky
(so there, Big Apple!). Norm Sham, beloved Buffalo actor and theatrical jack of many trades, makes his directorial debut. TAVERN, which runs a little over two hours with a single intermission, will be on tap weekends through February 7th.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: The action takes place in present day NYC, in a storied but now crumbling and nearly abandoned tavern in a soon to be demolished building. Adam and Janet are planning their wedding. But Adam can't quite give up tending his deceased father's bar, and Dad's old best friend Ray, a conspiracy theorist supreme, is haunting the place like a live ghost. Plot-talk is constantly in the air, and we learn from the outset that things are not always as they seem. Can it be that Adam, thoughtful poly-sci grad student and skeptic on matters conspiratorial, is actually a bit player in the most heinous plot of our time?
THE CAST: The fortunes of this enterprise fall squarely on the shoulders of Stewart Roth, making his first major stage appearance in WNY in nearly a decade, And Roth is very solid as the kooky, seedy Ray, a veritable fountain of information, whose dot-connecting takes him (and us) into some interesting murky waters. Ray is Dietz' only fully realized character; he has a plausible history and interesting relationships to characters living and dead (yes, he chats with the ghosts who are also living upstairs in the condemned building). Welcome back, Stew! Joseph Wiens is OK, but really can't do that much with Adam, the "straight arrow" who seems to be concealing things from everyone. The role is just too skimpy as written. As Janet, Kate LoConti gets to make the transition from non-chalant skeptic to agitated semi-believer, and she does it nicely. Stan Klimecko rounds out the cast as the mysterious Palmer, an apparent foot soldier in the 9-11 plot who knows a whole lot more than he is saying.
PRODUCTION VALUES: Another lovely, detailed set here from David King, although I personally could have done with a bit more grime. There are a few nice lighting effects from Brian Cavanaugh. Sham's direction is competent, but not focused, paced enough. A little more spooky music from Tom Makar also would have helped.
FINAL THOUGHTS: An enjoyable new show that will get you talking and thinking. Could 9-11 have been an inside job?? If your answer is an immediate "balderdash", this is probably not the play for you. If you are broadminded enough to find it conceivable, by all means get yourself a ticket. Playwright Dietz, with his goofy, teasing ending, clearly wants us to "embrace the mystery". The result is tantalizing fun.
Image by Shannon Schweitzer: Kate LoConti and Stewart Roth.