Over the Tavern, Northlight Theatre. This production accomplishes the near impossible, resting on the shoulders of a 13-year-old and finding him sturdy as Atlas. As Rudy Pazinski, the protagonist in Tom Dudzick's play, Bobby Anderson is genuine instead of a Macauley Culkin wannabe: funny without being cute, smart without being a wise guy. The rest of the cast likewise offer warm, three-dimensional portraits; director William Pullinsi must be the Platonic ideal of the actors' director. Suellen Burton (as Rudy's mother), Craig Spidle (as his father), and teenage Ross Harris (Rudy's brother) stand out in the strong ensemble.
But comedy-drama is tough, and Northlight doesn't come through unscathed. It's the script that falls short: Over the Tavern is really two plays, one a parody of traditional Catholicism along the lines of Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up? and the other a drama of familial discord and reconciliation during a boomer childhood resembling The Loman Family Picnic (the best among too many). These two genres fit together uneasily. One elderly nun (the able Mary Seibel) has two almost irreconcilable lines: "Did Ed Sullivan die on the cross for your sins?" and "I could never forgive myself for telling your father to hit you." Like comedians who change their expressions from tragic to euphoric by passing a hand over their faces, Dudzick's characters seem not multifaceted but bipolar.