Theories thrive in theatre production of “Yankee Tavern”

Conspiracy theories, mysteries and mind-bending questions will be presented in “Yankee Tavern,” the next play in the Sam Houston State University department of theatre and musical theatre’s fall performance lineup.

The play takes place entirely inside Yankee Tavern, set a few blocks away from the site of the 9/11 terror attacks. A young couple becomes entangled in a conspiracy theory dealing with terrorism, government accountability and the “official” reasoning behind the 9/11 attacks.

The production features tavern owner Adam and his fiancé Janet, played by senior musical theatre majors Brandon Whitley and Kathryn Porterfield. The couple encounters two barflies: Ray (senior musical theatre major Andrew Carson), a conspiracy buff and long time patron of the tavern, and Palmer (sophomore theatre major Stephen Harris), a mysterious character who seems to know more than he should about the events that unfolded that infamous morning.

The story presents parallel themes dealing with conspiracies in love, death, politics and government, which SHSU theatre manager and “Yankee Tavern” director Katie Stefaniak said goes back to the play’s writer, Stephen Dietz.

“Stephen Dietz is really genius when it comes to human nature,” Stefaniak said. “The way his writing is, everybody is talking at the same time and it’s very real. He writes very conversationally and doesn’t shy away from the ugly stuff that is real life.”

The play will be in the University Theatre Center’s Showcase Theatre, one of the department’s smaller theatres. Stefaniak said the smaller stage along with a cast of only four actors provides an intimate setting that draws the audience into the scene.

“We very much wanted to feel like the audience was members of the tavern,” Stefaniak said. “Being this close to the actors and to the action, it is very intimate. It is very much live theatre, but that’s what makes it so raw and so real.”

According to Stefaniak, “Yankee Tavern” touches on sensitive material in regards to the 9/11 terror attacks, and the controversial themes expressed are part of the story.

“I know it’s touchy subject matter, because it’s still very fresh and people are going to be affected by it,” Stefaniak said. “We just want to be storytellers. If people leave happy, that’s one thing. If people leave upset, we’ve invoked some kind of human emotion.”

While all audience members may not agree with the themes presented, Stefaniak hopes viewers come with an open mind and leave enlightened.

“Basically, always question and don’t believe everything [the media] spoon feeds you,” Stefaniak said. “Also, try and keep the relationships you have with people going on. Because, at the heart of it, it’s about the characters and the journey they have through their relationships.”

The direction and design of the play vary heavily from the style of the department’s first production, “Machinal.”  Stefaniak said the design for “Yankee Tavern” was a team effort between herself and the cast.

“When you’re reading the play, it’s very much like your reading a story where you can see the characters and see how it’s happening,” Stefaniak said. “It’s kind of taken from my head, but it was a huge collaboration with the cast. We are very much on the same level because, as an actor myself, I don’t like doing stuff that feels awkward. We really worked a lot together to make it flow naturally.”

“Yankee Tavern” allowed SHSU theatre staff members to take the reins on the design of the show, with fellow staff members Craig Brossman and April Keith joining Stefaniak on the design team.

“The sound design was faculty, the rest was all staff,” Stefaniak said. “Usually, it is only the faculty that gets to do the directing. Myself, April and Craig have always wanted to collaborate and do a show together. It was just the right show at the right time. Thankfully, they gave us the opportunity because we’ve had a really great time doing it.”

“Yankee Tavern” shows Oct. 29 through Nov. 1.  Evening performances begin at 8 p.m., with house open at 7:30 p.m. A Saturday matinee will show at 2 p.m., with house open at 1:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased by phone at 936-294-1339 or at the theatre’s box office located inside the University Theatre Center.

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