Over the Tavern | 12.01.10-12.26.10

Webster Groves native Spencer Davis Milford snatches the limelight in the role, combining astute comedic timing with a knack for Ed Sullivan impersonations.

 
 
 
St. Louis Repertory Theater
 
Where can you go to see a 12-year old impersonate Ed Sullivan, plant rebellious notions in the head of his older-but-not-smarter brother and aggravate the heart condition of Sister Clarissa, his strict, 70-year old catechism teacher? How about Over the Tavern, the new play at the Rep that opened last night. The play is an excellent example of how a skilled writer can extract humor in large doses from the stuff of everyday life.
 
Playwright Tom Dudzick sets the scene in his native Buffalo, NY, circa 1959. The Pazinski family of the play is modeled on his own family, with 12-year old Rudy as Dudzick himself. Webster Groves native Spencer Davis Milford snatches the limelight in the role, combining astute comedic timing with a knack for Ed Sullivan impersonations. The stage is set as the Pazinski family home, with the kitchen, TV room, hallway and one bedroom all on display for the audience. One corner of the stage shifts from a room in Rudy’s catholic school to a hospital room, and the extreme upstage center location serves as Rudy’s personal confessional, which provides a dose of laughter every time he gets on his knees and talks to Jesus.
 
Dudzick uses several devices to bring his audience back to 1959, but none of them pack the powerful punch of hearing Rudy’s younger brother Georgie referred to repeatedly as “retarded.”One halfway expects somebody to stand up and protest, but the discomfort we feel is a testament to Dudzick’s precise use of the language of a pre-1960s family.
 
Rudy’s doubts about his faith are the primary plot driver in the play, and barely a scene goes by without something playfully irreverent being said. For example, Sister Clarissa brings the house down in an early scene when she asks Rudy, upon discovering that he is doing Ed Sullivan impersonations for his friends at school, “Was Ed Sullivan crucified on the cross for your sins?”
 
The idea that religion competes with pop culture for the minds of the young has become commonplace in 21st century America. The particular genius of Dudzick’s play is in how it helps us realize that such an idea has been around as long as television itself. Rudy’s repeated mantra regarding religion, “Where’s the fun?” can be answered quite simply: the fun is at the Rep, in the form of Over the Tavern, which will be playing until December 26. | Stephen Fairbanks
 

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