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Theater Review

Dudzick's 'King O' the Moon' Explores the Trials of a 1969 Family

June 11, 2002|DAVID C. NICHOLS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The pleasures of shrewd craftsmanship distinguish "King O' the Moon," receiving its local premiere in a McCoy Rigby Entertainment presentation at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Tom Dudzick's self-contained second installment in a semiautobiographical trilogy, begun with "Over the Tavern," pivots his Polish American Pazinski family's transitions against those of a tumultuously changing era.

The year is 1969, the action spinning around the July journey of Apollo 11, with televised NASA-speak pouring from the Pazinski domicile above the family-owned Buffalo tavern at curtain's rise.

Even as the treehouse dominating Gary Wissmann's excellent backyard set merges narrative function with overarching metaphor, so do these historic transmissions hilariously juxtapose with human exclamations of more intimate import.

These emit from the tool shed, where eldest Pazinski son Eddie (Shannon Stoeke) and pregnant bride Maureen (Stacey Martino) have gone, seeking some uninhibited cohabitation before the drafted Eddie departs for Vietnam.

His uneasily married sister Annie (Audrey Wasilewski) would gladly ignore this hot-to-trot pair, if only her tenuous equilibrium would cooperate. The youngest Pazinski, mentally challenged Georgie (Damien Midkiff), registers excitement in every direction, beginning with the arrival of second-born son (and authorial surrogate) Rudy (Marc Valera).

Rudy has gone AWOL from seminary to attend the annual memorial for deceased Pazinski patriarch Chet, for which the antiwar-prone Rudy is designated deliverer of the State of the Family Address. Linchpin to this charged dynamic is widowed mother Ellen (Robin Pearson Rose), whose plate is full, and then some.

Between the sibling rivalry of the politically diametric Eddie and Rudy, former school scapegoat Annie's antipathy toward former bad girl Maureen, and Georgie's affinity for squirreling away family mail, potential conflicts lurk in every corner. As does family friend Walter (Michael Rothhaar), recently developed into more than a chum to the pragmatic Ellen. This distraction permits her to put off the thought that this reunion could be the family's last.

I missed "Over the Tavern" when it played this venue last season; in description the 1959 pre-Vatican II setting sounds like a Catholic equivalent to Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs." "King O' the Moon" more clearly approximates the template (if not the incisiveness) of Lanford Wilson's Talley family chronicles, particularly in the controlled dialogue and smoothly excavated motives.

The accomplished cast handles this well, with Rose's exemplary Ellen grounding the enterprise with her uncluttered honesty. Wasilewski's comic brashness conceals years of hurt, and Martino's earthy outsider is most ingratiating.

Valera's soulful insouciance works well against Stoeke's desperate braggadocio, and Rothhaar makes his potentially hackneyed character ring authentic. Likewise, though Dudzick's positioning of Georgie borders on formula, Midkiff's invested portrayal largely overrides the gaps.

This imbalance impacts upon the darker issues at play, their significance softened by Dudzick's comic contrivances, which are gently amusing at best, overly sunny and irrelevant at worst.

Glenn Casale's efficient but overly leisurely direction indulges these discrepancies, with the handling of curtain moments lacking point.

Still, while no masterwork, the congenial populist style recommends "King O' the Moon," with the future complications hinted at throughout boding well for the final installment, "Lake Effect," which finds the Pazinskis coping with the Buffalo Blizzard of '77.

*

"King O' the Moon," La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Ends June 23. $35. (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.

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