Every year during the holidays an impoverished but caring family with four kids, the Cratchits of 1843 London, take up residence at the Cincinnati Playhouse for A Christmas Carol. Those endearing folks have been displaced by another struggling family with four kids, the Pazinskis of Buffalo in 1959, in Tom Dudzick’s nostalgic comedy, Over the Tavern.
The Cratchits have a physically disabled son, Tiny Tim; the Pazkinskis have Georgie, who’s mentally handicapped. For both families, there’s no place like home, but the Cratchits love one another, while the Pazinskis are considerably more fractious.
The dad with a short fuse, Chet (Kevin Cutts), runs the family-owned tavern downstairs, and it’s a challenge to make ends meet.
Ellen (Celeste Ciulia), the feisty mom, tries to keep the kids in line — Georgie, who needs a lot of attention; Eddie (Eric Nelsen), eager to be an adult; Annie (Katie McClellan), whose hormones are just starting to kick in; and most of all Rudy (Spencer Davis Milford), the play’s precocious narrator, full of wry observations and a million questions about Roman Catholicism. He plagues his rigid, aging seventh-grade teacher Sister Clarissa (Darrie Lawrence) with his doubts and keeps life riotous with jokes and Ed Sullivan impressions for everyone else.
Played out on Paul Shortt’s cramped apartment set, the tale employs great humor that will appeal to Cincinnati audiences, although the issues — especially the father’s anger and verbal abuse — are quite real and troublesome. They’re softened by the comedy and an underlying sense of love, but too many scenes are played so broadly that the potential for depth is lost.
Director Michael Evan Haney has done his best with his young cast to present the story in a believable manner, although the kids often slip into stereotypes. But the laughs are steady and the conclusion is a happy one.
OVER THE TAVERN, presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through Feb. 19. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.