Over The Tavern: A KidsOutAndAbout.com Review
A play by Tom Dudzick
At Geva Theatre Center, Rochester, NY
Reviewed by Debra Ross
Twelve-year-old Rudy Pazinski is growing up Polish and Catholic in 1950’s Buffalo. Caught between the steely-glare of a righteous nun and the chaos of a dysfunctional family, what’s a boy to do? Faith, family, spaghetti and Ed Sullivan fight for space in a comedy for anyone who ever had a family...or survived one!
Over the Tavern is a coming-of-age story that takes place in Buffalo in 1959. Rudy, a seventh-grader attending a Catholic school under the strict tutelage (and ruler) of Sister Clarissa, starts to question the premises of the Catholicism that serves as the anchor of his ethnically Polish, blue-collar community.
I brought my 11-year-old daughter Madison, who is interested both in issues of religion and in what it means to follow rules, to the February 23 performance. We found it both gut-splittingly funny (especially for those of us with Polish roots) and touching by turns.
WARM 101.3's Tony Infantino had talked about how his 91-year-old very-Catholic mother had seen Over the Tavern and enjoyed it very much, so I was particularly interested to see how the play would balance Rudy's exploration of the teachings of Catholicism without showing disrespect to the religion.
What made it easier is that Rudy's incredulity is directed primarily toward the more-authoritarian strictures of pre-Vatican II Catholicism, so Over the Tavern is unlikely to offend contemporary audiences. It is, though, likely to make them think, between the giggles. Which is, in my book, a good thing.
The play explored one of my pet interests: the need for kids to learn to think for themselves as they mature rather than passively accepting rules. So I had been particularly eager to bring Madison, who is interested in these issues as well as the role that philosophy and religion plays in everyday life.
Over the Tavern is, therefore, perfect for families whose preteens and teens are exploring issues of faith and maturity. However, be forewarned: One of the funnier recurring bits involves Rudy's brother discovering the power of the "S-word."
Also, the play acknowledges teens' interest in sex and romance; it is addressed forthrightly, and, I was pleased to see, without a hint of the awful giggly quality with which sex is sometimes addressed (e.g., the musical Grease). However, this content means that Over the Tavern is therefore unlikely to be appreciated by young audiences.
The role of Rudy is aptly played by Forrest Gertin, a seventh grader at McQuaid Jesuit High School. Other notable performances included Celia Howard as Sister Clarissa and Kevin Cutts as Chet Pazinski (Mr. Cutts is temporarily replacing Arnie Mazer as Chet; I thought he did a marvelous job). There is no question, though, that the show was stolen by local actor Andrew Rondeau, who played Rudy's developmentally-disabled brother Georgie, and who himself who has Down syndrome. Kudos to Mr. Rondeau for an especially funny and touching performance!
Over the Tavern is playing at Geva Theatre Center in Rochester February 15 - March 13, 2011. Tickets are $22 - $59. They can be obtained at the Geva Theatre Center web siteor by calling the box office at 585-232-GEVA. $10 student rush tickets are available for non-sold-out performances 15 minutes before curtain time.