Pit & Balcony Presents the Poignant Comedy of \'Over The Tavern\'

    icon Mar 15, 2012
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For her directorial debut at Saginaw's Pit & Balcony Theatre, Pam Barnes considers herself fortunate to have a play as compelling yet humorous as Tom Dudzick's Over the Tavern to sculpt into shape for theatre-goers when this contemporary comedy opens to the public on March 16-17-18 and continues on March 23-24-25.

“Anybody coming to this production will feel good about seeing it, because it deals with some serious topics but at its core puts a face to the nature of unconditional love, plus it is very funny,” she explains. As a writer, Dudzick is one of the few contemporary playwrights in the lexicon of American theatre who makes a living at doing what he loves.  His first work Greetings! Debuted off-Broadway and quickly became a happy alternative to Dickens's A Christmas Carol, and Dudzick went on to create Over the Tavern, which has turned out to be one of the biggest grass-roots successes in American region theatre over the last few years, breaking box-office records all over the country.

Set in Buffalo, the playwright's hometown, the story carries us back to that idealized period of the late 1950s and introduces us to the Pazinskis: Mom, Dad, and their four children, Eddie, Annie, Georgie, and the hero of the tale, 12-year old Rudy - a precocious child who's starting to question family values and the Roman Catholic Church. He firmly believes that God put us on earth to 'have fun', and is trying to figure out why his family isn't having any.

Living with his family in this crowded apartment over his father's tavern, it becomes clear he is not living in a 'Father Knows Best' environment, as his own Dad is physically and psychologically wounded - often yelling at his kids and long-suffering wife.

For Barnes, it's both the clichés and the truths of Dudzick's script about the joys and travails of this family that blend into a poignant drama filled with telling details.

“It's a combination of funny natural humor and a strong family story that work incredibly well together,” reflects Barnes. “The father is Polish in origin and runs this bar above his tavern; and they are all good Catholics, but the oldest boy is approaching Catechism and questioning his faith because he doesn't understand why God does the things that he does.”

“Against this backdrop is a crotchety nun with the motto of spare the rod, spoil the child, who eventually sees that this isn't the best way to teach, and that questioning things is okay” continues Barnes. “The father learns the same thing. He's in a situation that he doesn't want to be in and was going to be a baseball player, only instead of punishing him for something that he did wrong as a child, his own father took a broom to him and racked his hand, which left him handicapped.  So while this is both poignant and funny, there is also a lot of heart embedded within this play.”

When asked what elements she is trying to bring out of the actors for this production, Pam quickly sites the underlying love between various family members. “Even though on the surface they seem to be always fighting, they still care and have passion, which is the bottom line,” she reflects. “The audience sees how this family loves and cares about each other, but they just don't know how to show it.”

“One of the children is a 13-year old boy who is mentally disabled, which is a character that much of the humor stems from,” continues Pam. “Between the way other kids treat him and the way his mother is with him, there is such a strong love between all of these family members that to me, this is quality I really wish to bring out to the forefront of this play.  Audiences can enjoy the humor and the story, but it's important they also see the love that binds this family together.”

Although she has worked with Bay City Players, this is Pam's first directorial debut at Pit & Balcony. She held the lead role in P&B's production of Christmas Express and has also directed for 20 years at Bay City Central High School, where she pulled together two to three plays each school year.

“I resigned last year because I couldn't do it justice,” she explains, “as I was teaching all English classes and couldn't devote the time needed to both; but doing community theatre with Pit & Balcony, I can definitely mange as there's a smaller time frame involved in terms of commitment.  I don't want to drop theatre, because I truly love it.”

For Pam the most challenging component of this production is getting the actors to a point where they can move and step outside their comfort zones. “The characters of the children are all rather young, so for a young man to bare himself open to the public can be challenging,” she reflects. “Plus to play a child that is mentally disturbed can be very challenging - it's a delicate line, because you don't want to make fun of the condition, but you also need to be genuine and true in terms of the portrayal.”

“This is truly a show for everybody,” concludes Pam. “I believe all of us question our faith at some time in life; and the family dynamics of this play are significant, especially for older young people, around 6th grade and up, who I think will benefit from seeing the things these kids are going through, that they will undoubtedly also be going through at some point in their lives.”

Over the Tavern will run from March 16-18 and 23-25 at Pit & Balcony Theatre in Saginaw. Friday & Saturday performances are at 8:00 PM and Sunday matinee is 3:00 PM. Tickets are $18.00 and available by phoning 989-754-6587 or going to pitandbalconytheatre.com

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    Kevin Profitt

    Wow, the lead role in Christmas Express. Good job.