Theatre Information

HATTheatre Over the Tavern

By • Mar 11th, 2013 • Category: Reviews, Virginia
Over the Tavern
HATTheatre: (Info) (Web)
HATTheatre, Richmond, VA
Through March 17th
2:20 with intermission
$18/$15 Seniors/$12 Youth
Reviewed March 9th, 2013

One of the last entries in the Acts of Faith Festival to open, was also my first opportunity to experience the HATTheatre. Celebrating its 20th season, HATTheatre is “off the beaten path” off Patterson Avenue in a storefront.

Over the Tavern is kind of the 1950′s Catholics in Buffalo answer to Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs (about a Jewish family in NYC in the 1930s). Eric Brenner as the main character of the play, the wise-cracking Rudy, is indeed reminiscent of a young Matthew Broderick (with a touch of Charlie Brown added). The 7th grader has charm, charisma, and impeccable comedic timing; successfully carrying the focus of the show and keeping the audience engaged and entertained. Having taught youth theater for over 30 years (and seen only a handful make it in “the business”) this kid is one to watch as his career develops.

The same natural talent that caught my eye in his performance of “The Boy” in Cadence Theater’s The Pillowman was again evident in this production. Brenner is always “on.” He stays in character, maintains eye contact with the other performers, uses a great variety of facial expression and body movement, and displays natural inflection and projection. These are signs of natural talent that cannot be easily taught.

Just like Broderick’s character, Eugene in Brighton Beach, Rudy and his three siblings are experiencing puberty and sexual awareness; however in a Catholic family where these thoughts are sin. Rudy is questioning his faith and Catholic school education, much to the chagrin of his aging Catholic nun teacher, Sister Clarissa, masterfully portrayed by Jody Smith Strickler. Strickler is every Catholic kid’s worst nightmare (I’ve heard the stories) complete with clicker and ruler. She is commanding and harsh which makes her softer, inflective moments even more tender and heart-rending.

All three of Rudy’s stage siblings face their own challenges, and are well portrayed by the young actors. Michael Tatum is eldest child Eddie, a perfect mix between Wally Cleaver and Eddie Haskell. He is both Rudy’s tormentor and role model. Tatum shows the nuances between the brooding teen filled with anger at his father, and the caring older brother who tries to protect his siblings. Kathleen Baughn is Rudy’s bobby soxer sister Annie. She is the typical insecure and emotional teenage girl. Baughn does well at displaying Annie’s emotions and frequent tears without being over the top.

The highest praise though goes to another young performer; Nick Dauley as Rudy’s “retarded” younger brother, Georgie. As a special education teacher, I can affirm just how authentic Dauley’s performance is. In his cast bio, Dauley says “He spent a lot of time researching those with special needs, determined to bring truth and respect to the stage.” Well, his professionalism paid off. He is both consistent and endearing in the little mannerisms, tics, body movements and facial patterns of a child with autistic like tendencies. Even in moments when his character is not involved in the plot, Dauley gently rocks, sucks his thumb, slaps his face and other stage business that are true to life for a person such as Georgie.

Fawn LaBenz Matzer and Ken Moretti are Rudy’s parents Ellen and Chet. Matzer is the typical 50′s stay at home mom, while Chet is a lower class, forgetful and dimwitted father, and the owner of a Tavern downstairs from the family’s apartment. As Rudy says, Chet is no Robert Young. He is brooding and distant, yet clearly loves his family — even his drunk (and never seen father) Pops. While there is great chemistry between the siblings and between the parents and the siblings, things just didn’t seem to click in the relationship between the parents. While the script varied between fighting and warmth, that warmth and tenderness just never seemed to come through.

Amidst the laughs are some serious messages about physical, verbal and emotional abuse. As Sister Clarissa says “rulers and broomsticks aren’t the only things that cause damage.”

Director Vickie L. Scallion effectively utilized the small stage and theater. The way things were set up, it almost felt like the audience was sitting with the family in their living room. Martha Kelley’s costumes were overall appropriate for the time, however Ellen did seem to be wearing pants more than housewives did at that time (we old timers remember the fuss over Mary Tyler Moore on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” even in the early 60s).

Two notes as a first time attendee: it would have been a nice touch to play some 50′s music softly over the sound system before the show and at intermission (the audience sat silently listening to each other’s whispered conversations) and while the padded seats on the metal chairs were a nice touch, padding on the backs would help in audience comfort as well (I heard several audience members comment on this as they discussed this otherwise “delightful” show on their way out).

The audience is left to ponder Rudy’s questioning of his faith. Maybe we’re not here to suffer and avoid hell; maybe God put us here to have fun. Either way, I can guarantee you will have fun if you make time to see Over the Tavern. Even with a few swear words, this would be a great show to bring the older children to, as they witness future stars of their generation in the making.

Photo Gallery

Photo 1 Photo 2
Photo 3 Photo 4

Photo provided by HATTheatre


  • Sister Clarissa: Jody Smith Strickler
  • Rudy: Eric Brenner
  • Georgie: Nick Dauley
  • Ellen: Fawn LaBenz Matzer
  • Eddie: Michael Tatum
  • Annie: Kathleen Baughn
  • Chet: Ken Moretti


  • Director: Vickie L. Scallion
  • Costumes: Martha Kelley

Disclaimer: HATTheatre provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

This article can be linked to as: