Venice Little Theatre’s Over the Tavern scores laughs, if not emotions.
By Kay Kipling
Playwright Tom Dudzick’s Over the Tavern is a popular choice for community theaters, and it’s easy to see why: It’s a family-oriented comedy with loads of nostalgia on tap for anyone over 50 or so, especially those of us raised in a Catholic environment. And it offers up a steady stream of good laugh lines.
Many of the laughs are there in the Venice Little Theatre production, if not the heart that is supposed to underlie them. The story centers on the Pazinskis, who live in Buffalo in 1959 above the tavern father Chet (Mike Griffith) runs. They have some of the usual domestic problems: teen daughter Annie (Grace Vitale) snacks too much and is starting to get interested in boys; son Eddie (Cameron Melchin) definitely has sex on the brain; and Georgie (Patrick Mounce), who’s retarded, is just about the only one who’s happy most of the time. Mother Ellen (Sara Trembly) usually plays peacemaker, especially when Chet forgets to bring home spaghetti for Friday night dinner.
But the real trouble comes from 12-year-old Rudy (Anthony DeNiro), who’s paying more attention to his Ed Sullivan impersonation than the Baltimore Catechism he’s supposed to be studying for confirmation under the watchful eye of stern Sister Clarissa (Nina Hughes). Rudy is asking a lot of awkward questions about his Catholic faith, and his decision not to become “a soldier for Christ” stirs the action that leads to the crisis that closes Act I.
On opening night, the actors sometimes rushed their lines, and both the performances and the direction lean on getting those laughs, rather than making the characters ring true. (David Lynn-Jones’ set design goes a long way toward creating a feeling of working-class 1950s realism.) But DeNiro is very likeable as Rudy (if not really the smart-alecky type, no matter what lines he’s saying); Hughes is convincing as a nun who can put the fear of God into adults as well as children; and Dudzick does have a sure hand at building comic dialogue.
Over the Tavern runs at VLT through May 27; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.