OVER THE TAVERN, at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. For good and ill, Tom Dudzick's play about a 1950s working-class Catholic family resembles a two-and-a-half-hour sitcom. Well-worn grievances are rehashed, most related to nuns brandishing rulers and threatening hellfire for oversleeping on Sunday or (saints preserve us) having impure thoughts. Precocious kids mug and crack wise while sorting through religious questions and sexual awakenings. Tense situations--like a child leaving home for days after a family fight or a grown man coming to terms with his abusive father--are resolved with minimal effort. Still, the story and dialogue offer genuine warmth and sensitivity.
Jim Jarvis and Margaret Scott create a rich, multilayered relationship as mom and dad Pazinski, high school sweethearts now in a marriage complicated by financial need and different views on child rearing: he believes in the value of "a good crack" while she believes in compassion and letting kids be kids. Ruth Neaveill also delivers a competent performance as Sister Clarissa, who's steadfastly committed to her faith but feels some remorse about her hard-line methods. The kids, as written and performed, are more cliched, though Noah Rawitz is cute as the Ed Sullivan wannabe and Dan Dvorkin builds a plausible, likable mentally challenged youngest child from his giggles and expletives. Father Knows Best it ain't, but Over the Tavern is still a safe bet for family-friendly entertainment.