Playwright Tom Dudzick, whose Catholic-Polish comedy, Over the Tavern, has been a multi-city regional hit, confirmed what has been in the regional rumor mill: The coming-of-age play set in Buffalo is a part of a trilogy.
The first part of that trilogy has another production dawning: Over the Tavern begins previews March 9 at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Official opening is March 11, with performances continuing to April 9 the Marx Theatre.
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Dudzick's comedy about the fictional Pazinski family, inspired by his boyhood growing up above his father's bar in Buffalo, was a hit in three productions at Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre and in theatres around the country. The sequel, Over the Tavern Part II: King O' the Moon, was an instant hit in November 1998 at the Studio Arena and nearly sold out when the co-production moved to the Pittsburgh Public Theater in January 1999. Dudzick told Playbill On-Line that Studio Arena may commission him to do a third play, but "nothing's been signed yet."
"The only thing I am sure of," Dudzick told Playbill On-Line, "is that I'm writing Part III of the 'Pazinski Trilogy.' The story is only beginning to formulate in my brain, but it will take place in 1979, ten years after Part II."
He joked that "the father in Part I, who had passed away and thus did not appear in Part 2, is still dead." He added, "I'm not sure which spouses will appear on stage. I can tell you with a fair amount of certainty, though, that Rudy, the main character, would be visiting the old Buffalo homestead from his home in New York City, where he is pursuing a playwriting career."
Audiences fell in love with young Rudy of the first play. The pre- adolescent with a vivid imagination struggled with his three siblings, his folks and a stern nun-teacher as he asked questions about faith, God and hell in the late 1950s. His impersonations of Ed Sullivan were a high point for Baby Boomers.
In the second play, King O' the Moon, set in the late 1960s, Rudy and his mother and siblings struggle with social changes and personal problems -- some faith-related -- as they remember the first play's now deceased patriarch.
It was not a master plan to create a "Pazinski Trilogy," Dudzick said. When Studio Arena artistic director Gavin Cameron-Webb commissioned him to write another play after the success of Over the Tavern, Dudzick joked with him: "All of us laughing -- 'We'll do a sequel to Over the Tavern.' And then I called Gavin a while later and said, 'We're not going to do a sequel, we're going to do a trilogy.'" Dudzick said at the time he had no idea exactly what form the stories would take, but "I knew the material was there in the back of my head."
Over the Tavern, about family ties and Catholic upbringing, was one of the major regional hits of the 1990s, playing Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA, Meadow Brook Theatre in the Detroit area, Sacramento Theatre Company, Capital Repertory Company in Albany, Little Lake Theatre Company in Canonsburg, PA, and Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown, PA.
Productions this season are planned for Seven Angels Theatre of Waterbury, CT, Cincinnati Playhouse in Park and Actors' Theatre of Ashland, OR.
In the sequel, the first play's wisecracking kid protagonist, Rudy, is now a seminarian in his 20s in the late 1960s, and he and his siblings are looking back at the loss of their father and exploring their values in a time of cultural change.
The recent King O' the Moon staging, a co-production with Pittsburgh's Public Theater, was directed by Terrence LaMude, who staged the three previous Tavern productions in Buffalo, as well as Dudzick's Greetings! there last season.
LaMude also served as Ýg for the sequel's New York City workshop in the summer of 1998. There has been some talk that the hit Buffalo King O' the Moon production -- cast, set and all -- may return to Buffalo as soon as summer 1999. Nothing has been signed.
The company of King O' the Moon included Sean Maher (Rudy), Stephen Kunken (Eddie), Gavin Hawk (Georgie), Judith K. Hart (Ellen), Jenn Thompson (Maureen), Stephen Gaines (Walter), and Stacey Lynn Brass (Annie). Shortly after the Buffalo opening, Donald Christopher left the role of Walter due to a health reason and was replaced by Gaines.
Designers were Gary English (providing the Buffalo back yard setting), Martha Hally (costumes), Tom Sturge (lighting), Tom Gould (sound). Stage manager was David S. Stewart.
Dudzick has been called a Catholic Neil Simon for his warm, funny portrayals of middle class families. He was born in Buffalo, NY, in 1950.
He wrote and produced dinner theatre in Western New York, became a Buffalo- area favorite and moved to New York City in 1979. While working day jobs, he wrote a one-act comedy, Me, Too, Then, which won an award and was published by Samuel French. Greetings! was produced Off-Broadway starring Darren McGavin and has also become a regional favorite.
He lives in the New York City area with his wife and two children.
-- By Kenneth Jones