IF YOU GO
What: Comedy about Polish Catholics struggling with social & cultural issues in 1969 Buffalo
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through April 24
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Cost: $44 & $39; various specials available
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Free parking across the street
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
FORT MYERS — Florida Repertory Theatre explores family, love, faith, war and a host of other issues during "King O' The Moon," a touching, endearing and beautifully acted comedy playing through April 24. Buffalo never looked so inviting.
"King O' The Moon" sits as the middle play in Tom Dudzick's "Over the Tavern" trilogy, a triptych about Polish Catholics in Buffalo, New York. Each of the plays finds the Pazinski family struggling with cultural or social issues particular to the 1950s ("Over the Tavern"), the 1960s ("Moon") or the 1970s ("The Last Mass at St. Casimir's").
The Pazinski clan gathers at a memorial dinner to mark five years since patriarch Chet died. But all isn't smooth. Rudy (Jason Parrish) has run away from the seminary and taken up with hippies to protest the Vietnam War. Eddie (Jacob Womack) has been drafted. Mother Ellen (Carrie Lund) is stepping out with a new man - and sister Annie's marriage is on the wrong track.
Set against the backdrop of the 1969 Apollo 11 lunar landing - the audience hears but never sees the actual iconic sounds as they played out over flickering TV screens in the summer of '69 - one bickering clan laughs, loves, cries and rediscovers what it means to be a family.
"Moon" wraps viewers inside a normal family faced with big issues - the draft, war, divorce, love, a crisis of faith - then dusts that with a helping of inter-family squabbling as well. Figuring out the war in Vietnam pales in comparison to beating your brother in a race around the backyard; that delicate, heartwarming charm with which "Moon" handles itself makes the play not just eminently watchable - but a sheer delight to see unfold on the stage.
Director Robert Cacioppo plays the work's emotional strings like a fiddle. Much of the professional cast has worked on the Florida Rep stage before - and the familiarity shines through as the sterling ensemble shuffles in and out of various combinations throughout the night - especially veterans Lund, Parrish and Mark Chambers. The final act's denouement surrounding a catechism medal - and whose bed it was found under - brings howls of laughter.
Womack digs into the role of Vietnam-bound Eddie. He finds a frightened vulnerability - so evident in the faces of a generation's young men headed off to the jungles of Southeast Asia - and pours that out on stage. One brief speech - delivered perfectly - about the horrors of war trips the play's emotional balance into overdrive. With a few words, "Moon" shifts from charming and scrappy misadventure to a play that audiences know means something; these issues are real, the characters caught up in life's problems like everyone else - and just as terrified of the unknown.
Rachel Lomax brings brassy realness to Maureen, a neighborhood Irish girl who married Eddie. Claire K. Guy displays a battered, but defiant spirit as Annie; an overwrought "afraid of heights" scene works because of her very real efforts. Watch for the unexpected from Adam Jones as mentally challenged Georgie - it takes a lot of smarts to play dumb - and he makes it looks so easy.
Robert F. Wolin's two-story sets - a house on one side, garage on the other - evoke a hardscrabble backyard. The detritus of everyday living lies stacked about - beer bottles, trash cans and more, plus a picnic table, battered chairs and a tree fort high atop a leafy giant that reaches into the rafters. Behind a wooden fence, three-dimensional buildings stretch into the distance; an enormous moon hangs over a cathedral with stained-glass windows.
"King O' The Moon" tackles tough subjects with a light heart and easy laughter. Look for ensemble's seamless chemistry, Parrish's effortless charm and Jones's endearing but not cutesy portrayal of challenged Georgie. If your heart isn't warmer and your eyes aren't moist when you leave the theater, check your pulse.
I've always been a fan of "Moons Over My Hammy." Email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.