Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Over the Tavern

By Tom Dudzickover the tavern at noble fool theatre

Directed by John Gawlik

Produced by Noble Fool Theatricals

At Pheasant Run Resort, St. Charles, IL

Family comedy of faith is either very funny or it hauntingly brings back horrors of being raised Catholic

I must admit that I’m a recovering Catholic raised in the era of Tom Dudzik’s play–the 1950’s.  I attended Catholic grade school, high school and university–so I understand why Rudy (Gabriel Harder) questions the dogma that Sister (Renee Matthews) is shoving down his throat. Over the Tavern brings back those horrible memories I have from that time in Catholic grade school when the nuns used physical and emotional torture to get us to both conform and to believe in the Catholic religion.  No wonder many revolted from this during the 60’s cultural revolution.

over the tavern at noble fool theatre renee matthews & gabriel harder

We meet the Pazinski family–a second generation Polish-American family living above the family neighborhood tavern in Buffalo New York, circa 1959 (terrific set design by Ian Zywica).  The Pazinski family have four teenage children–each questioning their family values in their own mischievous ways. Ellen (Stacy Stoltz), the matriarch, is the enabling wife who both fears her husband while shielding her children from his “bad moods.”

over the tavern at noble fool theatre renee matthews & gabriel harder

Dudzick fills his family comedy with much debate between Rudy, the seventh grader and Sister Clarissa as the nun who preps Rudy by making him memorize the Baltimore Catechism for his confirmation. Rudy’s questioning his faith and Sister’s physical torture were bitter sweet for me to watch. Many in the audience laughed–I didn’t see the humor in a kid being physically and emotionally tormented by a nun. Young Gabriel Harder and Renee Matthews produced an interesting chemistry as Matthews represents the establishment and Harder the inquisitive young mind.

over the tavern at noble fool theatre

We also see how Eddie (Alex Adams) struggles with his “impure thoughts” as his sexual drive moves into high gear.  Annie Pazinski (Katrina Syrris) has mixed yearnings that lead her to mirror the  sensual actions from a film.  There is also Georgie (Dan Velisek) who is mentally retarded and played as a comic foil. I found that to be most offensive.

over the tavern at noble fool theatre renee matthews & gabriel harder

There is a tone of dysfunctional family dynamic here as all members of the family fear that Chet (Scott Cummings), the patriarch will come home ‘in a bad mood’ and harass the family.    When he does indeed bring his ugly–unloving and distant persona–the entire family suffers.  This sure is emotional abuse and not very funny. While I didn’t have a father like Chet–I did know several of my pals who had nasty fathers like Chet.

I found much of the plot a contrivance. When Eddie confronts the his close-minded father and attempts to walk out of the house–Chet surely would have physically restrained him. Also, when Sister Clarissa visits the Pazinski household, Ellen all of a sudden confronts the nun preventing her from whacking Rudy on the knuckles. Why would she do that now since she must know that Sister does that at the school?

Lastly, When Chet visits Sister at the hospital, she admits that she should have help Chet years earlier when he was physically abused by his father.  Renee Matthews was terrific in that scene. Chet is moved and he goes home and instantly turns into a friendly, caring father. This simply didn’t ring true  to me. I think it would take much more for a nasty man like Chet to have an epiphany.

Audiences (with the exception of my generation) love this comedic fable and they laugh heartily. The best scenes in Nobe Fool’s production were those with Renee Matthews and Gabriel Harder. The religious questioning  aptly depicted the dogma of Catholics in the 1950’s.  The young talents playing the kids did yeoman work–especially Harder and Adams.


Tom Williams

“Over The Tavern” will continue through April 3, 2010 at Pheasant Run Resort.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., and Thursdays at 2 p.m. on March 4 and 11.  Tickets range from  $29 (you read that right, $29) to $39.  Dinner packages from $46-$59 are great values for today’s economy.  There are also overnight packages for the resort, which features a neat indoor pool and plenty of activities, just a little over an hour from downtown.  To order tickets call 630-584-6342 or visit  To learn more about the theater.  Pheasant Run is located on North Avenue, Route 64 in beautiful St. Charles, just west of Route 59.  Free parking is available.

4 thoughts on “Over the Tavern

  • Carmella Velisek

    I respect your review of this play. I would like to know how accurately you felt Daniel portrayed a mentally impaired thirteen year old functioning at about a three year old level(physical movements/facial movements)? This character was very difficult to develop.
    It was very important to Daniel he portray “Georgie” with respect. He in no way intended to offend anyone.

  • My problem was not with Daniel’s performance–but with having the character in the play. It seems to me that Georgie was put in the play for comic relief and that is offensive to me. I doubt anyone today would write such a character.

  • I had many of the same issues and concerns with this play, which I saw in a different production two years ago. There isn’t anything remotely funny about mental or physical abuse, especially when it is done in the name of “Christianity”. I have the utmost respect for Renee Matthews and am sure the Noble Fool production is professionally done. I am sure many of the characters and situations ring true, however they are presented by the author as offensive caricatures and the play strikes me as being more disturbing than hilarious. I think Tom’s review of the play itself is honest and accurate.

  • Lark Syrris

    We all have childhood memories, Catholic or not, about painful moments. Hopefully, however, when we look back through the eyes of adults, we also find redeeming value to these moments and learn to appreciate how they defined us, and, yes, we can laugh about the absurdity and contradictions. Over the Tavern is an exellent work of literature for this reason. It also captures a moment in our nation’s history– a shared defining moment when to question authority was a novel and long over-do concept. As for the character of Chet, I think the reviewer may be projecting too much of his own personal memories. The writer and the actor did a great job at showing the potential for Chet to transcend and to be enlightened from the very beginning of the play. He was never as mean as the family or the reviewer made him out to be. He consistently shows soft spots from the beginning, which when he has his epiphany about his father develop into a man who makes more of a conscious effort to be a better father. The same type of character development takes place with the nun. The point of this character development is to show how important it is to question authority and how this questioning can help us all to be more humane. As for the character, Georgie, to take offense is to entirely miss the point. Whether we are geniuses or mentally retarded, we all do funny and nonsensical things at times, and we have a choice to either cry or laugh about it. The fact that Georgie’s condition is a sad matter is not lost on the audience, especially when Rudy reveals his anger at God when debating with the nun, “Why did God make Georgie retarded?!” As for the other children in the family, they are also important characters who express the same theme of character development and the importance of questioning authority, each in their own ways, and they show, again, that even so-called “normal” people have abnormal moments and being human in any way is not easy. All the actors did a great job and deserve all the applause and laughter they receive. Life is both a tragedy and a comedy, sometimes all in the same moment and person. This play is very true to life. If you have ever found yourself laughing at a funeral, you know what I mean. If you have never experienced moments like these, then maybe you need to consider adopting more humor. Humor is good medicine for coping with life’s sorrows.

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