Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Over The Tavern"

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entire contents copyright 2009 by Tony Annicone

"Over The Tavern"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone The closing show of Theatre Works' 26th season is Tom Dudzick's "Over the Tavern". In that most idealized period of the 20th-century America, the Eisenhower years of the 1950's, the Pazinski family, a Polish family of six, has a lot going on in their cramped Buffalo apartment. It is a comedic, yet touching view of Catholicism. One of the bunch, 12-year old Rudy, is a smart, wise-cracking kid who's starting to question family values and the Roman Catholic Church. When Rudy goes up against the ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa and announces that instead of being confirmed he'd rather shop around for a more "fun" religion, all hell breaks loose. A warm and hilarious look at family, growing up and God. Connie Anderson directs the show and casts all the roles wonderfully, mixing the comic and poignant moments together beautifully. Her assistant director Paul Adam helps with his keen insight to Polish family life in the 1950's.

Connie allows the cast to move around the set with ease and in a totally realistic manner. The unit set is by Mark Anderson with the family's kitchen and living room center stage, on stage right is the bunkbeds for the two youngest children while stage left with a black curtain background and a crucifix is the setting for the classroom and when the black curtain is pulled back a stain glass window appears for the church scenes where Rudy prays to God for help. All the 1950's style costumes are by Sharon Charette. Mary Concannon is the hard working stage manager who keeps things running smoothly all night long. ( Her nephew who is 11 years old plays the role of Georgie in the show, stealing a scene or two in his debut on stage.) It is Autumn 1959 and we are taken into the Pazinski household, a Polish family of six who are Catholic and who deal with a slew of problems concerning everything from nuns, to sex, to mood swinging parents, finances right down to why they have so many sugar-coated cereals in the cupboard. The results of Dudzik's play are that it has endless laughs in it but leaves you with a sense of reality of the past. As Chet and Ellen, the parents of this household, Mark Anderson and Karen Bessette- D'Orio create a couple who truly love each other and their children, even if they show it in different ways. Chet has to run a tavern that the family lives above with his alcoholic father, who is constantly making mistakes or creating embarrassing scenes in the tavern with customers. Chet is also responsible for a family of five and this weighs heavily on his mind to the point that he keeps forgetting to bring home dinner but in Chet's younger years he was an excellent baseball player, only to lose it all on one fatal day. Mark gives his character a demeanor of a brooding man who is struggling to keep it all together. But there are also moments of tenderness and love that come from the actor when he asks his kids about how they are and asks that they say Grace before the meal. The best dramatic scene involves Mark and Lydia Mattera as Sister Clarissa. Both of them reveal their characters' pain in a totally believable manner that both performers show with their faces and strong acting ability. You could hear a pin drop after the scene ended. Pretty blond haired actress, Karen is a mixture of the typical 1950's moms and a drill sergeant as the mother to three growing boys and a daughter becoming a woman. Ellen shows great love for her family but she must change her emotions and behavior constantly depending on the moods of her children and husband. Ellen shows great strength when defending her children against the nun, like a lioness protecting her cubs and when she breaks Sister Clarissa's ruler for trying to hit Rudy, it is a standout moment. Karen does a wonderful job as this mother of the past. Lydia portrays Sister Clarissa like a strict martinet nun of those days as she badgers Rudy about the Baltimore catechism and why he doesn't want to become a soldier of Jesus in Confirmation. When she uses the dreaded clicker, you could pick every Catholic in the audience by the way we immediately straightened up in our seats. Lydia presents a perfect picture as an austere nun who does not have any sense of humor whatsoever. Underneath the ironhanded authority of her character is a woman who wants her students to be their best. Her sense of comedic timing is uproarious and her fainting scene is hilarious where the family thinks she is dead but Rudy knows to give her the heart pill. The dramatic scene where she confesses that she knows what really happened to Chet when he was young is well done. ( I previously reviewed Lydia earlier this season when she played Doris in "Frame 312" for ACT")

Amanda Lemire is Annie a 15 year old teenage girl who wants the boys to look at her and maybe even like her but she has a secret addiction to Twinkies. She has two laugh provoking scenes;one involves sneaking into an artsy movie with her friend, Tina and later changing in front of her bedroom window while the other concerns her new hairstyle. Her swearing on her Communion dress that she is telling the truth and her saying the nun can't walk down the alley because it has dog turds that Rudy didn't clean up.Amanda enters the scene with her hair teased and piled up high it looks like the Pope's mitre. She finally gets a boy to talk to her during Glee Club and she doesn't grasp that he is interested in her until she has a heart to heart with her mother as well as when Eddie tells her the boy is a busboy at La Chef restaurant where Chet keeps forgetting to go to get spaghetti for Friday nights supper . Amanda delivers a wonderful performance in this role. Eddie is like any other 16 year old boy, he's going through raging hormones which tends to get him into trouble constantly. Adam Rezza becomes Eddie wonderfully, connecting perfectly with his characterization of the pent up teen who is scared of his father. Adam brings the house down with many laughs in the scene where Sister Clarissa pays a visit to the house when he confesses to drawing a girl on the wall of the school because she is flat-chested. Adam's hiding of dirty magazines in the back of his pants is comical as is when he locks himself into the bathroom with one of them. His facial expressions and body language are hilarious but the character also has a tough, emotional argument with his father in another scene where displays pain, hurt and confusion by his father's demands, making it a riveting scene to watch.(This is the first time Adam has had lines in a show, having played the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in "A Christmas Carol" for ACT last December.) Joshua Renaud portrays Georgie, a young boy who happens to be mentally disabled. He wears a Superman cape at times and gets to utter the word shit over and over again at inappropriate times with hysterical results. Joshua has some sidesplitting scenes especially when he imitates Sister Clarissa fainting over and over again and his imitation of Woody the Woodpecker. Josh does an excellent job in his debut performance. Then there's Jordan Hamilton as Rudy. This is the lead role and Jordan handles it very well. He does a great Ed Sullivan improvisation and his prayers to God to light a candle and get the nun off his back are very funny, too. Rudy is very inquisitive about the Catholic religion and its rules. He cross-examines the nun and his parents about the teachings of the church's theories, on God, and life itself. Rudy's answers to these questions are quite good. Jordan treats his character like an adult who wants to understand life and what surrounds him. His hysterical facial expressions sell the jokes or punch lines like a trained comic and he never drops his character even in the dramatic moments. Jordan has to carry the show on his small shoulders and does so superbly. (This show is part of a trilogy and later on we find out Rudy becomes a priest! ) So for a fantastic new play that will be done by many groups now, be sure to catch "Over the Tavern" which is rewarded with a standing ovation at the close of the show.

"Over The Tavern" (15 - 24 May)
142 Clinton Street, WOONSOCKET RI
1 (401)766-1898 option 1

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide