Over the Tavern, Attic Playhouse. It’s hard to tell whether Tom Dudzick meant this play to be anything more than a comic reminiscence of growing up in a working-class Catholic family in the years just prior to Vatican II. The script touches on critiques of the church–for thwarting original thinking, for stifling adolescent curiosity, for encouraging nuns to practice excessively harsh discipline–and on the troubling issue of abusive fathers. Then Dudzick passes them all over with a sweet, nostalgic smile. Ah, the good old days, when dads were as mean as nuns and vice versa.
Still, this play about a slightly cracked Polish family living above the family tavern in Buffalo in 1959 manages to amuse, thanks in large part to Dudzick’s gifts as a storyteller. His comic characters are both believable and just exaggerated enough to be funny. His story is structured enough to maintain momentum but wanders enough to pass for a slice of real life.
Lauren Berman Rawitz’s production is workmanlike, with a wildly uneven cast: the performances range from very good (Kathleen Ruhl as Sister Clarissa) to over-the-top (Jim Jarvis as the father). The pacing is likewise spasmodic: some scenes unfold flawlessly while others pass too quickly. Overall the show succeeds, however, if you’re not in the mood for something deep or incisive.