|Michael Sacco, Noel Desiato, Sarah Knapp, Tony Harkin and Carey Cannata. Photo by Paul Roth.|
By Lauren Yarger
Catholic dogma might not rule the life of 12-year-old Rudy Pazinski, who to the horror of his parents and teacher-nun announces his decision to forgo Confirmation while he shops around for a religion, but Over the Tavern, Tom Dudzick’s play opening the 21st season for Seven Angels Theater in Waterbury definitely is a good work with outstanding youth performances.
Carey Cannata makes a notable professional debut as the religion-questioning, Ed Sullivan-impersonating boy trying to find answers in 1959 Buffalo. Ben Scanlon is his pornography-obsessed teenage brother, Eddie. Mandy Thompson is their sister, Annie, whose poor self image causes her to overeat and undress in front of her window. In a terrific turn, Tony Harkin is their younger, mentally-challenged brother Georgie.
Director Semina De Laurentis brings out performances that are natural, touching and humorous. Voice overs (performed by Joyce Jeffrey, Michelle Gotay and Don Leona with sound design by Trenton Spears) call the “s-k-i-ending” names of the Polish students for detention at St. Casimir’s parochial school, depicted simply by Rudy seated at a desk, with Sister Clarissa (Noel Desiato) towering over him, lighted by Lynne Chase set apart from the main action of the Pazinskis’ apartment (Erik D. Diaz, scenic design).
Mother, Ellen Pazinski (SarahKnapp), tries to keep their home together in the cramped apartment where they live over a tavern run by her husband Chet (Michael Sacco) and his abusive, alcoholic father. It’s not easy given Chet’s manic mood swings that have the kids living in fear of receiving a beating.
Things just get worse when Rudy starts asking questions during catechism class, impersonating Jesus and coming up with some of his own answers. Why does God let bad things happen, why doesn't he answer prayers and why does he allow Sister Clarissa to strike him with her ruler while teaching him about God’s love, he wants to know. Rudy’s resistance finally prompts a fateful home visit from Sister Clarissa that results in a new family dynamic that might just be everyone’s salvation.
Dudzick’s strong character development and engaging dialogue create a glimpse into the family’s life and into a time gone by in America and the amazingly strong performances by the junior cast members make Over the Tavern a real pleasure.
Catch it at Seven Angels Theatre, 1 Plank Road, Waterbury, through Oct. 30. Tickets range from $29 to $39,50 and can be purchased by calling 203-757-4676 or online at www.sevenangelstheatre.org.