Review: “The Secrets of Luuce Talk Tavern” by Anne Marie Oomen

April 21, 2012
Wondering what to do tonight? For a little inspiration, read Bruce Makie’s review of The Secrets of the Luuce Talk Tavern. In a personal note to NWS staffers, he said: “Mostly I wanted to tell you to go see the play, if you haven’t already. A really fine piece of writing. There may not be too many tickets left.”
The Secrets of The Luuce Talk Tavern will be performed at The Old Town Playhouse Studio Theatre at the Depot. Remaining show dates include:
• April 19th-22nd
• April 26th-28th
Tickets are going fast … so do call right away if you’re interested. Reservations can be made through OTP at (231) 947-2210. Remaining show dates include:
• April 19th-22nd
• April 26th-28th
The curtain goes up at 8 p.m. nightly with Sunday matinee performances at 3 p.m.
Birds of a Feather | The Secrets of Luuce Talk Tavern
by Bruce L. Makie
In essayist and poet Anne-Marie Oomen’s new play, The Secrets of The Luuce Talk Tavern, the secrets townsfolk give up—begrudgingly, greedily, sorrowfully—bind them together. Characters inhabit each other’s lives in ways that—like interlocking rings on a bar top—do not often wipe clean.
The hub of the Lake Michigan village Little Nation, Luuce’s is the sort of place where patrons do not meet someone for the first time. Here, they grew up—and apart—together. Failed ambitions, and failures as lovers, bluster and tenderness alike unfold within the tavern’s walls in ways that are profound and gut wrenching. Helen Luuce works hard to keep the beat up tavern open, and her daughter safe. But when a drifter shows up and volunteers to patch the leaky roof for a meal, the threat to the girl is unimaginable.
Luuce Talk Tavern is an evocative and nuanced tale, deftly woven together by director Jeanette Mason, her fifth collaboration with the playwright. Omen has created characters that are at once original and timeless, painfully believable, yet surreal: A crazed woodsman and his sweet, mousey wife, the angelic drifter who can fix almost anything but what matters most, a banker whose cowboy days are behind him but goes on shooting blanks. The dialog is crisp, poetic and real. Did I mention the swan? Ah, but it is a mute. More on that later.
The set is electric, and so homespun it will make you long for the company of Little Nation, or a drink—maybe both. The production’s lighting, sound and overall design are excellent. “The Secrets of The Luuce Talk Tavern” is playing at the Old Town Playhouse’s studio theater to sold out audiences.
Short on money for repairs, but not lacking heart, Helen Luuce (Lilli Zaunner) is determined to save the business her father left her, and to leave something in turn for her daughter Lizzie (Veda DeAgro-Ruopp). Helen also had a wild past—a very wild past—that she has shielded from Lizzie. Customers call her Hellon-Wheels, but think “Mother Courage” here. Ms. Zaunner brings a brazen though not cocky self-assurance to a role that demanded plenty of it.
The idealist Lizzie’s need is also green, but not the stuff her mother wants.  An impish and brilliant girl of twelve or so who unmercifully outwits customers, she aims to save the world and stop the manic curmudgeon Burt Cohodas (Al Lien) from cutting down trees at the beach. (The young Ms. DeAgro-Ruopp plays Lizzie with a sass and vulnerability that no doubt merit her already impressive stage credits.)
Her plan to sneak away to a conference in Chicago to see the environmentalist Barry Lopez is a tender moment in a barroom of travail. After all, she innocently claims, she had found a bargain of a motel “that rents rooms by the hour.”
Banker Clyde (Bart Ingraham) at first refuses to help Helen with the refinancing of the tavern, though he has a plan for her. Men of his stripe usually do.  He strikes a seemingly odd allegiance with Lizzie.
But the story turns on the drifter Van Mann, an itinerant worker and war vet whose poetic grace and mental illness give him a freakish capacity to rhyme and pun as easily as others might breathe. Played by Michael DeAgro, Van Mann comes to Luuce’s Tavern with a renewed hope of finding his place in the world. “Folks hold tighter than cold holds,” he says at one point, as much seeking shelter from the November rain as he is seeking forgiveness from the secret that hounds—and binds—him.
As the drama unfolds inside Luuce’s, the swan, its wing broken, struggles for its life on the beach. Found by Minnie Cohodas (Bonnie Deigh), the dying bird pulls at the frayed sensibilities of the townsfolk like an impending election. What to do about the swan? Conservation officer Susan (Sarah Bielman) explains—between whiskeys—that a mute is an invasive to Michigan and should be euthanized.
Minnie, so neglected by her chainsaw toting husband Burt that her own terminal illness seems a blessing, protests. “None of us really belong here,” she says.
Displaced. Wounded. Invasive.  Perhaps that is the not-so-secret message of this rich and haunting play: We try our damnedest to belong anyway.