“Over the Tavern” is heavenly and a hell of a show

Andrea Whiting

Are you going to confession on Saturday? Then shut up about going to Hell.

The Garvin Theatre is cold, but its buzzing energy is warm and infectious, until the actors speak. Lines like that begin, and then continue, for over two hours. The audience responds as expected: some set free bellowing laughs, others smile shyly, and others purse their lips and quietly stare.

City College Theatre Group’s production of “Over the Tavern” is filled with this clever dialogue, but if humor at the expense of critiquing Catholicism is not your cup of any beverage, then stay home. If you can handle Buffalo Bill-like Jesus impersonations and jokes such as “What do you get when you freeze holy water?” then the play is quite good, and often hilarious.

The play, directed by City College acting instructor Katie Laris, follows the slightly dysfunctional Pazinski family in Buffalo, New York in 1959, as they battle big-in-calorie Twinkies and big questions, all while living over the bar they own.

As the play begins, the ingenious set reveals its versatility, thanks to designer Tal Sanders. The main set is the Pazinski home, with the bright kitchen in the middle, and a bedroom and living room on either side. If you’re sitting in the first few rows, you may only get to see two of the three realistically decorated rooms. Then, like pieces in a puzzle, portions of the set showing life outside the home effortlessly slide to and fro across the stage.

The play focuses on 12-year old Rudy Pazinski, played by Diego Paul Ochoa. Rather than accept his family’s religion and lead a life of memorization, Rudy asks questions that no one in his life wants to answer, a situation many people will remember from their childhoods. As a result, he angers his family and does worse to his Catholic schoolteacher Sister Clarissa, played brilliantly by Marion Jessup Freitag.

Ochoa captures Rudy’s inquisitive nature perfectly. Upon giving an Ed Sullivan impersonation a low rumble vibrated through the Garvin, as anyone old enough to recognize Sullivan’s mannerisms immediately broke their staring in favor of laughter. (The night I saw the play, something like 80% of the audience must have been over 60-years old, so I’ll trust them.)

As with any drama, the rest of the family is plagued by problems, too.

Annie Pazinski is the typical perky and emotional big sister, played very dramatically by Rebecca Jacks. Annie can’t stop opening her mouth to devour Twinkies, but can’t open her mouth to talk to boys.

Kameron Tarlow plays Eddie, the typical mean big brother battling hormones, who really isn’t that mean. He delivers some of the play’s most amusing lines while trying to determine whether thinking certain thoughts is a venial or mortal sin. If it’s just venial, he’ll go to purgatory, and pictures show the flames are smaller there so it must be less hot than Hell.