Review: ‘King o' the Moon' is a great emotional stew of a family saga


“King o’ the Moon” at the Hippodrome Theatre features, from left, Michael Crider as Walter, Ericka Winterrowd as Maureen, Thaddeus Walker as Rudy, Logan Wolfe as Georgie, Josh Price as Eddie, Lauren Roth as Annie and Nichole Hamilton as Ellen through March 17.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 at 8:28 a.m.

Putting a man on the moon is easy. Family is hard.

Facts

‘King o’ the Moon’

What: Tom Dudzick’s follow-up comedy to “Over the Tavern,” which played last year at the Hipp
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays through March 17.
Where: Hippodrome Theatre, 25 SE Second Place
Tickets: $30-35, $25 for senior citizens, $15 for students
Info: 375-4477, www.thehipp.org

That's the bottom line on “King o' the Moon,” the middle play in Tom Dudzick's Pazinski family trilogy, now showing at the Hippodrome Theatre.

The contrast between the calm, almost placid TV-broadcast comments of the Apollo 11 moon-bound crew and the anything-but-quiet desperation reflected in the verbal jousting going in the backyard of this Polish-Catholic clan's Buffalo, New York home/tavern could not be more jarring.

Or more hilarious.

From liftoff (“Trajectory is good, thrust is good” an astronaut deadpans as decidedly amorous background noises emanate from the Pazinski tool shed) to “The Eagle has landed,” this fast-paced tale, which is well told and well acted, will make you laugh.

The exception comes in those small moments when it will strike you mute in awe over the sheer weight of the emotional baggage these people are hauling around with them (in one instance, enough to literally fill a wheelbarrow).

Make no mistake, this is a play about a family in crisis. Virtually everyone in it is undergoing a crisis — a crisis of faith, a crisis of courage, a crisis of confidence a crisis of fidelity and the crisis of a lost crucifix, to name just a few.

And so it must be the stuff of comedy. Because if you couldn't laugh along with these wonderfully eccentric characters, they would make you want to cry.

In the hands of director David Shelton and his cast of talented actors, comedy wins hands down in “King o' the Moon.”

It is the summer of 1969. America is at war abroad and in upheaval at home. Oh yes, and that whole moon-landing thing is going on.

When last we saw Rudy Pazinski (in the Hipp's 2012 production of “Over The Tavern”), he was 12 years old, did a killer Ed Sullivan imitation and was wrestling with profound doubts about his devotion to the Catholic Church.

Now an older but arguably not much wiser Rudy (played with just the right touch of naivete by Thaddeus Walker) has fled the seminary, continues to question his Catholicism and has embraced the anti-war (sorry, I mean the “peace”) movement.

“You haven't seen anything until you've seen a 71-year-old man running away from the police with a walker,” a reeking-with-tear gas Rudy giddily announces to his dumb-struck family.

Returning home because it's his turn to deliver the family's annual “State of the Union” speech to his deceased father, Rudy finds his older brother Eddie about to ship out to Vietnam and tries to talk him into going to Canada instead.

Josh Price manages just the right-sized chip on his shoulder as Eddie; long bitter from feeling continually upstaged by his holier-than-thou brother in virtually everything except the “King o' the treehouse” competition. This is sibling rivalry writ large.

Meanwhile, older sister Annie (Lauren Roth channeling everybody's annoying sis) is losing the competition for her husband's affection to a train set, of all things. Thinking the unthinkable for a good Catholic girl, Annie is taking her frustration out on her former high-school rival and now pregnant sister-in-law Maureen (AKA Easy Make Blake). But Maureen, played with cheerful cluelessness by Ericka Winterrowd, easily deflects Annie's barbs with ever more outrageous ripostes of her own.

Nicole Hamilton, the only holdover from last year's production, reprises her role as the long-suffering matriarch of the clan. Ellen is a woman of few words, and Hamilton delivers them with a precisely measured patience: “I am using the smallest words I can find,” she tells Eddie. “Pick up the trash.”

And if mom ought to be more consumed than she appears to be by one son's imminent departure for war, another's loss of faith and her daughter's domestic train wreck, it's because Ellen's got a crisis of her own: Walter, her employee and her husband's old friend, has a question and he wants an answer.

Michael Crider plays Walter with exactly the sort of gentle humor and uncommon insight one might expect from a guy who makes his living pouring drinks for working men.

Picking his way amid this minefield of familial chaos and discord is Georgie. Playing the youngest, special-needs sibling, Logan Wolfe packs considerable depth and profundity into his few barely decipherable lines. Georgie's aping of his late father's moodiness is especially touching.

This is a fine cast and a great emotional stew of a family saga.

If nothing else, you will want to see “King o' the Moon” to learn the answers to some of life's imponderables: What's so odd about Florida? What happens to the tear gas when you turn on the shower? And what is “it” and how do you get it, lose it and get it back again?

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