Some people call playwright Tom Dudzick "the Catholic Neil Simon," and at Montgomery Theater in Souderton, you can see instantly that the moniker fits.
His high-spirited Over the Tavern has a Simon sensibility: The laughs come easily, the characters flirt with caricature but never cross that line, and the script contains not a whiff of irony. Over the Tavern - especially in this fluid production staged by the company's artistic director, Tom Quinn, and with a pitch-perfect cast - is throughly charming.
The play is the first of a trilogy about the Pazinski family of Buffalo. Dudzick has had great success in regional theaters around the nation with such non-trilogy plays as Greetings! and Hail Mary!, and while Over the Tavern lacks an exclamation point, the Pazinskis do plenty of exclaiming. The play is set in 1959, before dysfunctional was a vogue word.
The family lives in cramped quarters over the Buffalo tavern owned and operated by the dad (Tom Tansey). He and his '50s-hausfrau wife (Leigh Murray) have four kids, who get most of the best lines and are the heartbeat of the play. At Montgomery Theater, they're also the most impressive aspect of a production whose success depends on four sharp young actors.
High-schoolers Eddie and Annie (Owen Pelesh and Rachel Diamond), their retarded sibling, Georgie (Stephen Kent), and super-swift 12-year-old Rudy (Dane McMichael) clearly are bound, if not for hell, at least for purgatory (where flames are lower, one of them explains) for foul-mouthing, sex-obsessing, and all the other typical teenage activities that render them imperfect in God's eyes.
But those are the eyes of a Catholic-school God, says Rudy, who has no time for catechism, wonders to Jesus why "all you do is give me rules - angry rules," thinks confirmation in the church is meaningless, and wants to shop around for a more congenial religion. In 1959, this is more than apostasy - for a 12-year-old, it's unheard of. And so is telling a teaching nun (the first-rate Cynthia Raff) that God put him on Earth to have fun.
Everyone shines, particularly the impish McMichael as Rudy. He's a natural actor who runs with the part as if the play were cross-country. The script requires him to be both impudent and a genuine intellectual at the same time. McMichael answers the challenge with a seamless performance that would be impressive even for an adult - in an equally seamless production that milks Over the Tavern for all the good fun it's got.
Over the Tavern
Presented by Montgomery Theater, 124 Main St., Souderton, through March 7. Tickets: $25-$37. Information: 215-723-9984 or www.montgomerytheater.org.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Montgomery Theater's production of Over the Tavern received good ink from the Philadelphia Inquirer's resident theater critic, Howard Shapiro: