Theatre in the Grove gets familial with 'Over the Tavern'
by: Courtesy photo Rudy (played by David Van Dyke) is picked on by his big brother Eddie (played by Zachary Centers) in “Over the Tavern,” opening this weekend at Theatre in the Grove.

Theatre in the Grove has spent the majority of its current season presenting familiar fare guaranteed to satisfy audiences eager for shows that allow older theatergoers opportunities to share their favorites with younger generations and stoke a general sense of nostalgia.

The group got saccharin with its winter performance of 'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory' and tackled another young reader favorite, 'Charlotte's Web,' bringing E.B. White's world of talking animals to life last month.

For its next production, opening this weekend, the group is veering into less familiar territory with 'Over the Tavern,' a comedic drama set in Eisenhower-era Buffalo, New York. The play tells the story of a dysfunctional family of six, whose 12-year-old son, Rudy, develops a crisis of self when asked to prepare for his Catholic confirmation.

Confused by God's intentions - Rudy suspects that his maker put him on earth to have fun rather than to serve - the young boy begins to question the nature of faith and God's will, much to the chagrin of his parents.

The play, written in 1992 by playwright Tom Dudzick, is largely unfamiliar to many audiences, though it has gained a large following among community theater groups, particularly closer to its East Coast setting.

Longtime Theatre in the Grove member Jeanna Van Dyke was completely unaware of the piece when she began researching shows for the current season. However, it took reading only a few pages of the script before she was completely hooked by the story.

'It's right up there with my top favorites. It's got all those magical ingredients that you need for a great play,' says Van Dyke, who also directs the show. 'It's got all this heartwarming stuff. It can make you laugh. There is a lot of funny stuff. It can make you cry, too.'

Though the story is set in a very specific time and place - New York at the advent of television - and takes its theme from a specific Christian religious ideology, Van Dyke insists that the play's charm and message can be appreciated by all ages and backgrounds.

'The questions it asks are universal questions, and the family relationships are important to everybody,' says Van Dyke.

Playing the lynchpin role of the precocious Rudy is Van Dyke's grand-nephew David Van Dyke. But despite her close relationship with the young actor, the director insists that her choice was not based on the family connection. In fact, she was initially averse to choosing her nephew for the role.

'I was worried about casting him because I didn't want people to think I was casting him because we were related. He really had to work for the part,' says Van Dyke, pointing out that the group has a history of families working together, and that 'Over the Tavern' also includes the mother-and-son team of Michelle and Charlie Friend.

'In our rehearsal environment and in putting on this play, there are no family relationships,' Van Dyke continues. 'We are all fellow actors working on this play. There is no (family) relationship with David and I working on this play.

'All that stuff that belongs with having a family member stays out of here. We are all on equal ground.'

Van Dyke hopes the close-knit nature of the cast will help bring to life one of her favorite scripts: one that, despite being less well known, could also speak volumes to anyone who ventures into the theater.

'It leaves you with this feeling that there is hope. This is what living is all about,' says Van Dyke. 'The world is a better place for people having seen this play.'

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