Theatre Review: ‘Over The Tavern’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

Tom Dudzick’s “Over the Tavern” recalls a time when the comedic violence of Woody Woodpecker and the shoot-‘em-up heroics of The Lone Ranger flickered on an absurdly futuristic black and white television set.

. . .impressive and entertaining. . .

A time when juvenile delinquency amounted to crude and simple street graffiti, smuggled and concealed “Playboy” magazines, and experimentation with beehive hairdos.

It is Buffalo, New York, in the late 1950s, and we are at the home of the blue-collar Pazinski family. They live in an apartment above their family owned tavern, Chet’s Bar & Grill.

The family kitchen is stockpiled with an arsenal of sugary breakfast cereals, a cupboard of canned beets, and either milk, Kool-Aid, or beer in the fridge. I don’t know why but it is so Buffalo.

The children’s bedroom is adorned with pictures of favorite TV stars, and the one bathroom and one telephone accommodate only one person at a time.

Chet, husband and father, is a gruff, complaining, hard-nosed provider, and his wife Ellen, is a working-class version of “Leave it to Beaver’s” June Cleaver. Except that Ellen has a more budget minded wardrobe, and you won’t find June snapping off a beer cap alone in her kitchen at the end of a long hard day.

Their concern is their kids who offer them no end of adolescent trouble. Daughter Annie is on the verge of womanhood and is convinced that she will never be desirable to boys, even in her forbidden beehive doo.

Oldest son Eddie is sleeping at the “Y” after an explosive argument with his father, and Rudy is demanding to know exactly what a “soldier for Christ” is on the eve of his Catholic Confirmation. He is not sure he wants to be a “soldier” at all.

Least trouble of all is Georgie, who gleefully shouts out his newly learned “dirty” word at the most inappropriate moments.

Intruding upon this domestic squabbling and sitcom premise, is Sister Clarissa, Rudy’s parochial school teacher who seems part corporal punishment advocate and part devout religious believer. When she visits the family unexpectedly, they scramble and hurriedly mount a picture of Jesus Christ on the refrigerator.

And there you have it. A domestic comedy ripe with familiarity and laughs. Especially if you’re Catholic. But this play is surprising in its dosage of equal parts humor and something approaching anguish. The comedy earns big deserved laughs from the audience, while the drama gets very close to genuine discomfort.

It’s as if the Woody Woodpecker cartoons and the pop-gun sounds of The Lone Ranger have spilled from the TV and have manifested themselves as verbal and physical violence.

Sister Clarissa’s habit of smacking Rudy on the head and rapping his fingers with a wooden ruler is unsettling. Even more disturbing are both Rudy’s and Eddie’s heated proclamations of hatred for their father.

These are genuine moments that are played out as passively as Ellen reaching in the refrigerator for a beer or Georgie clicking on the TV. And before you can absorb these alarming developments, or ponder the state of Catholic School doctrine, the family tumbles into another comedic spin and tragic notions are obliterated.

Dudzick’s play reflects family life honestly, and sometimes darkly, but mostly sweetly, all while Woody Woodpecker laughs his fool head off.

The adult performances are strong and solid. Greg Reggie (Chet) and Eileen Stevic (Ellen) have portrayed these roles several times, and although there was a slight lack of fluidity from them on opening night, they commanded a parental and matrimonial presence which allowed the stage a huge degree of ease.

Alicia Michielli as Sister Clarissa is justifiably bigger-than-life in a wildly entertaining performance that manages to exceed the bounds of her character’s devout religion to a level of humanity.

It’s the young performers who put this production over the top. Caroline Schettler as Annie, and Samuel Fesmire as Eddie possess a seasoned comedic timing, both physical and verbal, portraying youngsters on the verge of adulthood.

Isaac Fesmire as Rudy, the semi-autobiographical version of the playwright, is outstanding and natural in a lead role that allows him a wide range of childhood angst which he delivers masterfully. And he offers a funny Ed Sullivan impersonation to boot.

Ayden Herreid as the developmentally challenged Georgie, is a wonder. His believable and touching performance can only come from a child actor with a profound grip on performance.

Director Gail Golden and the Lancaster Regional Players have given us an impressive and entertaining “Over the Tavern”. It’s a treat to hear references to Swan Street, Chef’s Italian Restaurant, and beef on weck, in a play that has reached global success.

And a shout-out to Post Cereal’s defunct and maligned Rice Krinkles, featured in the play. It was pulled from the marketplace sometime in the mid-60s, due to its near total lack of nutritional value, and a racist advertising campaign concerning an Asian cartoon character. I remember it fondly. And it was so sweet and yummy!

It seems to fit perfectly on the Pazinski family’s breakfast shelf. Right next to the “Wheaties.”

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Over The Tavern” runs through January 21, 2018, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players and is presented  at The Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

 

 

Theatre Review: ‘Dracula’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

Sometimes, a playwright will adapt a novel into a script that just is too large to condense into a story that an audience will be able to understand in two and a half hours. The author of the novel has time to develop their characters and can allow for the story to build. A playwright has to tell a story, and tell it fast to keep the audience on their side. Adapting a story form a novel, especially a long novel, is a very tedious process and quite frankly, is a process that is not usually done well. Steven Deitz’s ‘Dracula’ has that problem. It is a heartless adaptation of a dark novel from the 1800’s.

. . . if you are a fan of the Bram Stoker novel, and are looking for a great night out during this Halloween season, go see this show!

Lancaster Regional Players takes on the monumental feat of mounting the Deitz version of ‘Dracula’ – the story that has made it’s mark on popular culture with countless film versions and stage adaptations. Telling the tale of the aristocrat, Count Dracula, as he moves to London and slowly begins taking control of helpless victims who each have what he was needs. . .their blood. This version is one of the best stage adaptations of the Bram Stoker novel, yet it still leaves large holes in the story that are confusing if you are not fully familiar with the tale. This, of-course, is not the fault of Lancaster Regional Players, as they must perform the script as written, but it still should be said that if you find yourself, lost at certain points of the story, you are not alone.

Directors David Hall and Joel Murphy take on this challenge, and make some great artistic choices for this production that make the weak script watchable. The set is one of the most intriguing and fascinating ones that I have seen in a long time. It is extremely versatile and it keeps the audience’s interest, even when Dietz’s script does not. The art design of the set is very impressive and the cast interaction with the set is one that positively assists in telling this story.

It is interesting to note that Hall and Murphy enlist the use of background actors to assist in scene changes, and while they were a little clunky during the opening night performance, the thought behind them is admirable. Opening night is always a nervous time, so I can only imagine that these will be smoother as the show continues it’s run.

Jamie Nablo (Lucy) and Kara Lynn Harris (Mina) take on the leading lady roles and play them very well with admirable chemistry. Dietz does not give these roles very much to work with in the area of three-dimensionality, but Nablo and Harris bring great artistic choices to their parts and work with what the script gives them.

Trevor Dugan does a nice job playing Dr. Seward in this show. Dugan is a great character actor and takes on the challenge of playing the manager of an asylum and does so very well. When it comes to being over taken by Dracula himself, Dugan takes some unique artistic risks but his portrayal is enjoyable overall.

Christopher Fire takes on the title character in this piece, and is very intimidating while doing so.  He brings a feminine sex appeal to the role that caused a few audience members to coo in giddy excitement. He performs well as the creepy aristocrat. 

Overall, this production has some very positive pieces that make it work, but the script is just difficult to stay interested in. It’s a long show, and it feels long. That being said, if you are a fan of the Bram Stoker novel, and are looking for a great night out during this Halloween season, go see this show!

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Dracula” runs until October 15, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players, and is presented at Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.

Lancaster Regional Players Brings ‘Dracula’ Back To Life

For the literary gurus out there, one horror novel stands the test of time when it comes to thrilling your mind and that is Bram Stokers’ 1897 story called ‘Dracula.’ This novel, written as letters and diary entries, tells the story of the infamous aristocrat as he pines for youthful life and. . .blood. The story has been adapted into several films, and live plays, and the title character was made famous by Bela Lugosi, who portrayed Dracula, numerous times, both on Broadway and in the film directed by Tod Browning.

“I had always wanted to do Dracula,” says David Hall, who will be co-directing the Steven Deitz adaptation for Lancaster Regional Players, “I had been talking back and forth between the executive director of the Lancaster Opera House, and we had a few shows in mind, and finally, we were able to settle on this version of the story.”

Along with Hall, Joel Murphy co-directs this retelling of the classic tale. “David had approached me in 2015 with the idea to pitch the show,” says Murphy, “ he wanted to get a bunch of artists together to create the visual effects needed for it. I was really intrigued by this idea.”

“I think most people think of Bela Lugosi when they think of Dracula, and I wanted to try something different,” says Hall, who is known for taking classic shows and putting unique spins on them, “I always felt that the character was a little hokey when portrayed and that adds a campy feeling to the story that turned me off.”

There are countless versions of “Dracula” available for licensing rights, but choosing the right version is important to the director’s vision and design. “I liked the Dietz version the most because there was better character development,” says Hall.

“The story starts earlier, and both of our leading ladies are still alive,” adds Murphy.

The novel, in which the show is based, is very detailed and playwrights sometimes need to take liberties to condense the exposition. Usually, playwrights will not include all the characters from the novel because it can get a little confusing when trying to create a two hour stage play. In this version, Mina, and Lucy, are both still alive. Typically, one is not.

“I always loved ‘Dracula’ and I’ve always thought that the story was very sexual, and that the character was very intriguing,” says Hall,” You root for him. And you have to remember that he didn’t ask to be a vampire, he became one.

Lancaster Regional Players casts actors of all experience types in their productions. “The cast really stepped it up a notch. We have many different actors at different points in their careers and I think that they all intimated each other to be the best that they each can be,” laughs Murphy.

In modern times where vampires are mainstream, Murphy believes that the show has the potential to wrangle in an audience who will completely appreciate it. “We have an opportunity to expose a new generation to the story, who isn’t as familiar with it, and make it memorable,” says Murphy.

“Dracula” opens on October 6, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players, and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Run For Your Wife’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

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The best thing in any theater community, especially Buffalo’s unique community, are the organizations made up of local professionals who act for the love of theater. Lancaster Regional Players have been presenting community theater for 52 years, and they’ve collaborated with the Lancaster Opera House to present the British farce “Run For Your Wife.” The play centers around a taxi driver, living a double life. He lives happily with his wife, Mary, in Wimbledon. He also lives happily with his wife, Barbara, four and a half minutes away! When he steps in to stop a mugging, he is hit in the head and taken to hospital. The situation begins to unravel when John gives both of his addresses in the course of the incident’s investigation.

“. . .the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.”

The production definitely stays true to its community theater roots, marking the nonmusical debut of one of the actors in the company. Lancaster Regional Players have picked a play that, in my opinion, is dated in some of its humor, but manage to do a decent job in putting it on. David Hall, the director, does his best with a flawed piece of theater, and does a serviceable job with the difficult style that is farce.

Leading this production as John Smith, Scot Kaitanowski shines. As a veteran of numerous productions here in Buffalo, Kaitanowski has a natural knack for comedy. He handles the fast-paced dialogue with ease, and his organic reactions add the extra flair necessary to make the script work.

Joel Murphy, playing John’s Wimbledon upstairs neighbor and assistant in protecting his double life, is the right combination of charming and quick-thinking. Murphy’s greatest strength is his commitment to the character and the comedy; however, he might learn a bit from Kaitanowski in the art of physical reaction.

Rounding out the cast soundly are Suzie Hibbard as Mary Smith and Amy Feder as Barbara Smith. Both ladies are extremely apt in their roles, rolling with the craziness that ensues from the situation unravelling.

In the roles of the police sergeants, Victor Morales and Jackson DiGiacomo are excellent straight men to the farce happening around them. Chuck Basil rounds out the cast as the upstairs neighbor, a 70s stereotype of a homosexual man. Basil conveys the stereotype well, but is unable to bring any kind of humanity to his, by 2017 standards, offensive stereotype. This seems to me like a script fault, so Basil’s performance can hardly by critiqued for it.

All in all, David Hall’s direction has brought the best parts of the flawed “Run For Your Wife” script forward, but it seems to me most of the actors are working against a dated script, especially as it relates to the homosexuality element of the story. That being said, the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.

“Run For Your Wife” runs until May 21, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.