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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Life Over the Tavern

Funny family drama at Sunset Playhouse

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Set in 1950s Buffalo, Over the Tavern is rooted in acclaimed playwright Tom Dudzick’s childhood experiences. Rudy, the 12-year-old protagonist, butts heads with the dogmatic Sister Clarissa as she tries to subdue his endless, imaginative questioning and see that he learns his catechism in time for confirmation. At home, things are little better. Rudy’s father, Chet, verbally abuses the family, and his mother is crushed beneath the monumental task of maintaining a semblance of unity.

Seemingly closer to drama than comedy, Over the Tavern is nonetheless peppered with numerous funny lines and touching family moments. All the characters are well developed and ultimately sympathetic. We learn, for instance, that much of Chet’s cruelty stems from his troubled past and the tremendous stress of caring for his own alcoholic father. Moving and universal, Dudzick’s realistic masterpiece challenges us to consider how individuals’ histories impact their behavior in the present, and the endurance of family against all odds.

Sunset’s staging has high production values, with a meticulous box set designed by Chase Stoeger and excellent period costumes by Dana Brzezinski. Director Brian Zelinski brings out great work from child and adult actors alike, with standout performances by Inge Adams as Sister Clarissa, Ellen Sansone as the long-suffering mother and Philip M. Klinker as Rudy’s mentally handicapped brother, Georgie.

The production runs through March 24, at Sunset Playhouse, 800 Elm Grove Road. For tickets, call 262-782-4430 or visit sunsetplayhouse.com.
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