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[whitespace] Joey Zimmerman Losing His Religion: Rudy Pazinski (Joey Zimmerman) is a Catholic schoolboy who asks lots of unanswerable questions in the San José Rep's 'Over the Tavern.'


Raising the Bar

'Over the Tavern' transcends sitcom style in comedy about growing up Catholic

By Heather Zimmerman

IN THE PERFORMING ARTS, Catholicism has taken a lot of hits over the years. Ruler-wielding nuns have become the well-used targets of everything from stand-up routines to movies. But sometimes appreciation can come from the least likely quarter, and such is the case with Tom Dudzick's Over the Tavern, an intelligently irreverent comedy about growing up Catholic in 1950s America. San José Repertory Theatre opens its season with an excellent production that adeptly portrays both the humor and the drama in Dudzick's play; it takes its share of cracks at Catholicism, but ultimately makes a kind of peace with it.

That's not to say that Sister Clarissa (Linda Hoy) is not armed with a ruler that she whacks across the knuckles of Rudy Pazinski (Joey Zimmerman), a 12-year-old with a particular knack for asking those prickly, eternal questions along the lines of why God allows suffering in the world if He's such a benevolent supreme being. Aside from his genuine confusion, Rudy pulls off plenty of gags at the Church's expense. The punch-line style of the jokes echoes a sitcom, but not to the play's detriment. In fact, it's a fitting format, considering the play's setting in the '50s. But Over the Tavern noticeably departs from those unfailingly cheerful glimpses into American family life with plenty of insight into Rudy's family.

The Pazinskis live over a bar run by Chet (Jarion Monroe), the bad-tempered man of the house. His kids, Rudy, Annie (Adrianne Wilkinson) and Eddie (David Phillips), cower in his presence. Only their mother, Ellen (Anni Long), faces down her husband's temper. Fueling Rudy's questions about God's fairness is his brother Georgie's (Joseph Medeiros) mental disability. The characters display many of the traits typical in works that explore religion--the verbally abusive Chet is the first to proclaim his piety--but Dudzick's play doesn't render them as caricatures, and director John McCluggage leads a superlative cast in beautifully fleshing out these conflicted characters. Zimmerman portrays Rudy as bright, but no more of a know-it-all than any 12 year-old naturally is--just brave enough to actually voice his questions. The hard-edged Chet might seem a good candidate for a "villain," as does Sister Clarissa, but both Monroe and Hoy do an excellent job bringing out the pain in each character's well-concealed fallibility.

In offering accessible portraits of real people grappling with insurmountable questions, Dudzick celebrates the universality in humans' seeking the "Meaning of Life." The play humorously appraises religion in a secular sense, its inherent value in society--not as an arbiter of morality or a spiritual guide, but as a cultural institution that defines human experience. And of course, eternal damnation notwithstanding, anything that gives an audience this much to laugh about can't be all bad.


'Over the Tavern' plays Tuesday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3 and 8pm and Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Oct. 10 at the San José Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Tickets are $17-$35. (408.367.7255)

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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