BWW Reviews: OVER THE TAVERN at the Olney Theatre Center

By: Oct. 09, 2012

There's a lot of talent in Tom Dudzick's OVER THE TAVERN which takes place in Buffalo, NY before the Buffalo Bills were born. It's 1959.

Two of my favorite actors Deborah Hazlett and Paul Morella are the husband and wife Ellen and Chet Pazinski who live with their four children above a restaurant called "Chet's". These two actors were so superb in the Olney production of RABBIT HOLE.  It's not their fault that I was thinking of leaving at intermission because I was so bored. It's the book.

I was so surprised to see Hazlett repeating the act of folding cloths at the beginning of OVER THE TAVERN just like she did in RABBIT HOLE.  I even read the script to see if this was in the stage directions and it was.  I hope her next play doesn't include laundry.

The play reminded me at times of "I Love Lucy", "The Honeymooners", "Father Knows Best", and "The Brady Bunch". Morella's character even wore a sleeveless undershirt like Art Carney did in "The Honeymooners".  Hazlett's life as a wife in the Pazinski family was similar to Alice who played opposite Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners".  She has a husband who's behavior is based on childhood problems but nevertheless, why does she stay with him. 

The opening of the play concerns whether or not Chet will bring home spaghetti from a nice Italian restaurant in town. Their precocious son Rudy (played by the terrific Noah Chiet) even prays (literally) for his father to bring home dinner and "please don't let Daddy be ina bad mood tonight". 

Rudy even asks God "Couldn't we have Robet Young ("Father Knows Best") for just one day?" How a playwright could write that when father forgets to bring home the bacon, I mean spaghetti, there is NOTHING in the house to eat.  That sort of made me think what was Dudzick thinking.  It's all downhill from there.

This is a play where obviously father does NOT know best.

It's a shame because the cast is extremely talented. The other three children are Eddie (Connor Aikin), a typical teenager discovering sexuality in the time of Eisenhower, Georgie (Christopher Cox) who is mentally challenged and loves to yell four-letter words, and Annie (Corrienne Stein), a typical female teenager who loves to wear a bee-hive hairdo and loves art films. They are all wonderful.

Carol Schultz plays Sister Clarissa who is Rudy's teacher and she can't understand why Rudy is so independent and stubborn. 

A highlight of the evening is Chait's attempt at impersonating the great Ed Sullivan who's show on Sunday nights at 8 p.m. on CBS was "must see" tv for the nation. In typical Sullivan style he deadpans, "Tonight join Ed and his guests Gizelle McKenzie, Wayne and Shuster, Senor Wences, Tennessee Ernie Ford..."  For the older generation, this was hilarious and brougt back memories. For everyone else, it was a big yawn.

The play does deal with important topics such as bullying, a daughter who sneaks twinkies, a son who questions his religion, a son who is mentally disabled, a father who has many faults, and a wife who is trying to hold the family together.

I found the laughter forced in many places and the audience certainly did not get much of the attempted humor.

Director John Going does an adequate job with what he is dealt.  James Wolk has put together a great set and Liz Covey has costumes that fit the era. Anne Nesmith does nicely with the wigs and Matthew McCarthy is responsible for the effective lighting.

In summary, OVER THE TAVERN reminds me of architect Frank Gehry and his plans for the Eisenhower Memorial.  It just doesn't work.

The play runs until October 21. For tickets, call 301-924-3400 or visit

Photo Credit: Stan Barouh


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