Dwindling conversation

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Dwindling conversation
Yankee Tavern
Through Nov. 8 at Orlando Shakespeare Theater
812 E. Rollins St.

In the Yankee Tavern, a crumbling neighborhood bar on the ground floor of a condemned building in lower Manhattan, Ray (Jim Ireland), a wistful, fast-talking eccentric in threadbare clothes, rambles on and on about the many conspiracies he sees in the world around him: Weddings are the invention of big-box stores; the fall of the Berlin Wall was a Disney-Kremlin co-creation; the lunar landing was real only in the sense that astronauts landed on a parallel moon.

But Ray saves most of his vitriolic commentary for the 9/11 disaster and its subsequent cover-up, pushing Adam (Zack Robidas), the son of Ray's best friend and the tavern's proprietor, and Adam's fiancée, Janet (Katherine Skelton), to their limits of tolerance. Yes, they agree, Ray has many fine points to make in his diatribe against accepting the conventional wisdom about the perpetrators of the most devastating attack on the homeland since Pearl Harbor, but like many conspiracy theorists, Ray just goes too far, undermining his truly cogent arguments with a substructure of imaginative fancy. 

When a mysterious stranger named Palmer (Tom Nowicki) enters the bar, seeming to confirm some of Ray's speculations, the stage is set for a thought-provoking political thriller, with several interesting subplots concerning the play's four characters. This is the promise of playwright Steven Dietz's Yankee Tavern, now in production at Orlando Shakespeare Theater, under the direction of Anne Hering.

Unfortunately, the promise is never kept. After setting up all the requisite postulates in Act 1, Dietz, somewhat like Ray, simply goes off the rails in Act 2. None of the characters' relationships get explained, and the plot dissolves into more questions without answers about Adam's involvement with a shady academic who may or may not have had some prior knowledge about the planning of 9/11. By the play's abrupt end, Dietz has painted himself into a corner, leaving his audience uninformed, unenlightened and unsatisfied.

If Dietz's plan was to emphasize the fact that we can never really know the truth about 9/11, or for that matter any of the great conundrums of history (like the Kennedy assassination), thanks, but we already knew that going in. And unlike Monty Python, who reserve the right to simply suspend a sketch while segueing into another, a playwright with Dietz's talent owes us a more comprehensive and logical wrapping up of his tale.

Although Hering's direction is first-rate and the acting terrific, there is an emptiness at the heart of Yankee Tavern that yearns for another draft — and in this bar, it's not a Rolling Rock that is called for.

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