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THEATER REVIEW

Family dynamics in play in `Last Mass'

A deft cast brings to life the story of a scrappy clan that finds love -- and closure -- while stranded during a storm.

June 05, 2007|David C. Nichols | Special to The Times

Genuine warmth peeks through frozen Buffalo in "The Last Mass at St. Casimir's." In this final entry in his "Over the Tavern" trilogy, playwright Tom Dudzick strands his Polish American clan together during the blizzard of '77 and deftly brings them to closure.

As director Glenn Casale smoothly assembles the principals in Chet's Bar & Grill (expertly designed by Gary Wissmann), we see that the Pazinskis may have mellowed, but they're still scrappy.

Ever-agitated daughter Annie (Erin Bennett) hides her concern over a pressing family issue by bewailing her skirmish with a lamppost.

Her brother Eddie (Robert Della Cerra), safely returned from the Vietnam War that dominated "King 'o the Moon," sounds suspiciously like their late father when on the phone with his son before the lines go down. They await Rudy (Marc Valera), who moved to New York City to pursue his still-stalled writing career.

Ellen (Robin Pearson Rose), their twice-widowed mother, has made peace with selling the bar. However, she seems in denial about her mentally challenged youngest, Georgie (James Leo Ryan), who at 31 is becoming increasingly difficult to care for.

In revising "Lake Effect," the first version of this play, author Dudzick omits Catholic activist Aunt Marge and barfly Dinty Shanagan. Although this deprives "Last Mass" of some texture, it heightens focus on the family, whom Casale's fine cast embodies with spiky assurance.

Rose carries a subtle urgency beneath Ellen's common-sense exterior that bespeaks her awareness of the inevitable, superb at the climax. Valera, like Rose a veteran of his role, tempers Rudy's wisecracking bravado with a tangle of feelings about his newly complicated future.

Della Cerra incorporates Eddie's darker edges and maturity to form an effective foil, and Bennett gives snappish Annie a vulnerability. As Georgie, Ryan skillfully avoids cliches and almost runs off with the show.

Their nuance is doubly admirable since it must register despite microphones. Though discreetly handled by sound designer Josh Bessom, the amplification periodically pulls our ears from the action on stage to the speakers alongside the proscenium.

Dudzick's narrative style, with its gentle comedy and drama emerging from retroactive conflicts, can seem old-fashioned. Yet that suits its valedictory aims, and family audiences may consider "Last Mass" a wholly respectable blessing.

*

`The Last Mass at St. Casimir's'

Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: June 17

Price: $37.50 to $45

Contact: (562) 944-9801, (714) 994-6310

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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