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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Parochial Humor

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It’s that “perfect period” in the mid-20th Century circa 1959: Eisenhower was president, Ed Sullivan was introducing a nice young man by the name of Elvis Presley to millions of viewers glued to the new medium of television, and kids, for the most part, still listened to their superiors—parents included (the ’60s are just around the corner). Perfect timing for 12-year-old Rudy Pazinski to question his catechism teachings—and life in general—at the hands, literally, of the militaristic Sister Clarissa.

Rudy and his siblings live over the tavern their father runs in Tom Dudzick’s humorous play Over The Tavern, which the Civic Waukesha Theatre opened last week. Dudzick is a master craftsman, clearly understanding how to poke good-natured fun at all the rituals of a Catholic school upbringing. But the play also poignantly points out the trials and tribulations of a family dealing with what life sends their way. There’s Rudy’s mentally challenged brother Georgie, sister Annie dealing with her growing interest in boys, older brother Eddie who’s rebelling against just about everything and Mom who tries to keep it all together while dealing with their father’s bad moods and his own past wounds, real and psychological.

Under the fine direction of Brian Zelinski, Over The Tavern is less a period piece and more a family drama that anyone can relate to, especially given Dudzick’s witty craftsmanship coupled with a solid ensemble of actors.

“Couldn’t we have Robert Young for one day?” Rudy prays to Jesus, hoping for the perfect TV dad from Father Knows Best.As Rudy imitates TV host Ed Sullivan for Georgie, Jesus appears once again, this time as Sullivan’s “special guest.”“Back when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the New Testament, who do you think corrected their spelling?”

The more Rudy questions, the more he falls under the stricter tutelage of Sister Clarissa, his tormentor, verbally and physically.But he knows how to strike back in his own way.

The laughs keep coming as well as the parochial school references, from disciplining with wooden rulers to constant reminders of ending up in you-know-where for any imagined infraction.

As Rudy, A. J. Magoon takes center stage shows remarkable poise and naturalness as the quiet questioning rebel.As Rudy’s parents Donna Daniels and Dan Hargarten come across as real, bickering spouses, trying to recapture romance while dealing with life’s realities. Logan Peaslee, Thomas Galindo and Jenny Kosek turn in strong performances as Rudy’s siblings, and Inge Adams makes Sister Clarissa a fully realized human being, flawed and self-aware.

In an imperfect world, even for the late ’50s, the humanity of these characters shines through. Over The Tavern runs through May 18 at The Waukesha Civic Theatre located in downtown Waukesha

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