Saturday, February 15, 2014

Conspiracy Theory & Beer: Yankee Tavern at BDPH - Review

September 11th changed everyone. Driving to Tennessee Tech that 2001 morning, coming from DeKalb County past the breathtaking views over Center Hill Lake, I learned about the attacks on NPR and felt a sick feeling overtake me. Yankee Tavern—the new play currently onstage at Tech’s Backdoor Playhouse—addresses the fearful years of the post-9/11 climate with an intoxicated catharsis of conspiracy theory and beer.

Tech theater director and professor Mark Creter portrays Ray, a scruffy urban squatter who launches screeds about government cover-ups and who needs shots of unpaid booze to feed his paranoid needs. Creter’s caustic genius is palpable from play’s beginning to end. Looking unruly and unkempt just for the part, Creter seems to be channeling the late Philip Seymour Hoffman with a dark dosage of uncomfortable honesty. Ray is neither conservative nor liberal but altogether angry and funny, reminding the world that the enemy always lurks within as well as without.

Student director Josh Rapp also plays Adam, who tends bar in the failing Tavern and attends grad school with a mysterious middle Eastern professor that we never see. Adam is engaged to Janet, played by Caroline Brown, the only female in the cast who is fierce in balancing all the masculine energy onstage. Rapp’s superb acting always brings some nervy kinetic jabs to the Playhouse stage which makes this edgy character perfect for him. We’re worried for Adam, even if we, like Caroline, are not entirely sure we can trust him.

As odd as all the characters are, inside the claustrophobic worry of waging war and being buzzed in the big city, Andy Davis as Palmer is the strangest of them all. Palmer is stalkerish and silent for much of the first act as he drinks Rolling Rock with an imaginary friend. He gets no less creepy when he opens up in the second act. 

Yankee Tavern, like the topics of national discomfort it addresses, is a play shrouded in ambiguity. It’s the kind of eerie theatrical text we expect from the gang over at the Backdoor Playhouse and has just enough humor to help us wrestle with its unresolved ending. Although not light fare, this excellent play will either leave you reeling or healing from the strong drink of 21st century anxiety that it pours out.

The Backdoor Playhouse is at the rear of the Jere Whitson Building, just off the main quadrangle at Tennessee Tech. The remaining shows aretoday, Saturday 2.15 at 2pm & 8pm. TTU students are Free with ID. General admission is $12. Seniors are $10 & non-TTU students are $5.  Info:

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