Tom Dudzick’s play, about a working-class Catholic family trying to make it in the 50s, is a lot better than it has to be. Packed with references to the way things were in pre-Vatican II America, Over the Tavern could have coasted on jokes about nuns, learning the catechism, and the inevitable clashes between hormones and sexual puritanism. Instead Dudzick fashioned a moving comic drama that wins laughs without sacrificing its deeper purpose, exploring with eyes wide open the myriad, subtle ways that alcoholism–even the relatively mild alcoholism of a grandparent–damages a family. When the play opened at Northlight in early October, it was clear that the script had been well served by Ted Hoerl’s bang-on casting and William Pullinsi’s no-frills direction. But it wasn’t until the show moved to the more intimate confines of the Mercury Theater that you could really see its power. At the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Craig Spidle had a whiff of the kooky sitcom dad about him that’s burned away here, in a performance that speaks volumes about the ways the sins of the father are visited on the children (and grandchildren). Similarly, what seemed a sweet, nostalgic glance back at life during the Eisenhower administration looks now like a portrait of a family on the verge of enormous change, their parochial worldview about to be shattered by the turbulence of the 60s. Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, 773-325-1700. Open run: Tuesdays-Thursdays, 7:30 PM; Fridays, 8 PM; Saturdays, 5 and 8:30 PM; Sundays, 3 and 7 PM; Wednesday, December 19, Thursday, December 27, and Wednesday, January 9, 2 and 7:30 PM. There are no Tuesday shows December 18 through January 8. $38.50-$44.50. Also Monday, December 31, 5:30 and 9 PM; call for information about special New Year’s Eve prices and dinner-show packages.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Brosilow.