WELLSBORO - The Pazkinskis are a second-generation Polish-American family living in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1959. The trials and tribulations of this funny, fractious family who live "Over The Tavern" is Hamilton-Gibson's current attraction.
The show only has one remaining performance at 2 today at the Warehouse Theatre.
Sometimes compared to another coming-of-age tale, Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs," this nostalgic play focuses upon Rudy, one of four children of Chet and Ellen Pazkinski, whose cramped apartment is over a bar that the father runs. Bright but unfocused, Rudy poses perplexing questions to his seventh-grade teacher, who wields a heavy hand and ruler when he expresses a desire to "shop around" for another religion before studying for his Confirmation.
“Over the Tavern” has one remaining performance at 2 p.m. today at the Warehouse Theatre, Wellsboro.
The knuckle-cracking Sister Clarissa routinely keeps Rudy after class and makes an eventful visit to his parents after he expresses doubt why God doesn't want everyone to have fun.
Heading the cast is Hunter Brion, who does a superb job playing Rudy, who would rather do Ed Sullivan impersonations than study his Baltimore Catechism. H-G's Artistic Director Thomas Putnam, who directs "Over The Tavern," stated that he "wanted a kid who would be natural, 'full of piss and vinegar,' 'bright and charming.' " The fifth-grader from Mansfield is delightfully inquisitive in the play's most critical role.
His nemesis is Sister Clarissa (not wearing nun's shoes), effectively played by Barbara Biddison. Her reactions to Rudy's questions triggers lots of laughs as she cajoles and threatens him with going straight to hell. Boomers in the audience who attended parochial schools in the 1950s and '60s will likely nod, remembering these rote responses.
Rudy's teenage brothers are perpetually horny Eddie (Thomas Bates), struggling with "impure thoughts," and little Georgie (Nathan Williams) referred to as "retarded," a label that would be changed to "developmentally challenged" today.
Sophie Vayansky nicely plays their sister sibling, Annie, fretting about beehive hairstyles and yearning over boys.
Jeff Ryan and Deb Sawyer play the parents struggling to make ends meet and with tensions in the household. Ryan makes Jeff an overly short-fused father with little or no modulation in his bluster. Sawyer is likable as Ellen, but doesn't display much of the wisdom and steadfastness the matriarch needs to protect her children from the emotional abuse when her husband comes home "in a bad mood."
Although there are plenty of laughs with some physical comedy and one-liners, the father's constant abusive behavior isn't at all funny, but surprisingly still produced frequent laughter.
While there is much to recommend about "Over the Tavern," there are lots of negatives as well. The plot is overly contrived - most evident when Chet visits the nun in the hospital. When Sister Clarissa admits that she should have intervened when Chet was abused as a boy, he suddenly is transformed into a caring, friendly father and husband.
Many references may be lost upon non-Catholics (the nun's "clicker" to obtain silence, and Annie bemoaning a movie not being on the Legion of Decency's approved list).
Although briskly paced as the scenes change from the apartment to the church and the hospital, the running time - with a long first act - is still nearly two-and-a-half hours with one intermission.
More than an coming-of-age tale, "Over the Tavern" is a crowd pleaser.
H-G's production of this comedic fable isn't all laughs but very entertaining, even if you are not Polish or Catholic - or a baby boomer.
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