Write what you know, goes the old writer’s maxim.
But the playwright, who now lives in Nyack, just couldn’t bring himself to commit those stories to paper.
“Because I was Catholic,” he says. “There was something in me that said ‘Oh, no, no. Don’t put yourself in a spotlight. Don’t be a braggart.’ ”
Then, one night in 1993, coming home from his Lower Manhattan job as an administrative assistant for Bankers Trust, he had finally had enough: “I said, ‘Oh, for crying out loud! Write it! It’s a play! It’s telling you to write it,’ ” Dudzick recalls.
The play, “Over the Tavern,” which opens Penguin Rep’s 33rd season in Stony Point this weekend, just poured out of him.
The Dudzicks became the Pazinskis — dad Chet, mom Ellen, kids Eddie, Annie, Georgie and Rudy — living one flight up from Chet’s tavern in 1959 Buffalo.
Seen through the eyes of 12-year-old Rudy, who would rather perfect his Ed Sullivan impersonation than study his Baltimore catechism for a ruler-wielding Sister Clarissa, it’s a slice of life that has resonated with audiences in Buffalo and beyond.
On stage, Mike (who died last year at age 60) becomes Georgie, played by Jonny Adamow.
“Over the Tavern” was a huge success when it premiered at Buffalo’s Studio Arena Theatre in 1994, selling out the entire run.
“The audience took it as their own personal story,” Dudzick says. “There was an ad in the want ad section of the paper that read ‘Wanted: 2 tickets to “Over the Tavern,” any night!'”
Studio Arena presented it three years in a row, selling out each run. It went on to break box-office records in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and St. Louis and ran for more than a year in Chicago.
(St. Louis Rep and Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park will co-produce it again next season.)
Now, it comes to New York, to the charming 108-seat barn theater at Penguin Rep.
Penguin regulars will recall Dudzick’s hilarious play “Our Lady of South Division Street” — about a shrine outside a Buffalo home — which opened last season. “Our Lady,” now renamed “Miracle on South Division Street,” went on to a production at Waterbury’s Seven Angels Theatre, directed by Penguin’s artistic director Joe Brancato.
He staged the world premiere of Dudzick’s “Don’t Talk to the Actors” at Studio Arena Theatre.
Caruso’s “Over the Tavern” cast has local ties: Real-life brothers Stephan and Jonny Adamow (Eddie and Georgie) are from Stony Point; Ashley Scales, who plays daughter Annie, is from Pomona.
Kevin Cutts plays Chet, a man Dudzick says “whose only fault is that he’s in a bad mood from this job he didn’t like downstairs.”
Kathryn Markey plays Ellen, who is trying to keep the family going, juggling a house full of teen-agers who are pulling in all different directions.
Christopher Cox, who played The Little Boy in last fall’s Broadway revival of “Ragtime,” plays Rudy. And Judy Frank plays Sister Clarissa, a force to be reckoned with and never questioned.
While much of what “Over the Tavern” is taken from his life, Dudzick concedes that talking back to a nun was pure fiction.
“Questioning a nun right to her face?” Dudzick says. “Absolutely not.”
Having written about his family once, Dudzick didn’t stop there. “Over the Tavern” sparked a trilogy of plays.
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“King o’ the Moon” finds the Pazinskis 10 years later and “The Last Mass at St. Casimir’s” is set in the infamous Blizzard of ’77.
The popularity of the trilogy has made Dudzick a local hero to Buffalonians.
He was featured as a question on “Jeopardy.”
“The question was something like ‘Tom Dudzick’s play “The Last Mass at St. Casimir’s” was set during the Blizzard of ’77 in what northeastern city?'”
The answer, of course: Buffalo.
“And the guy got it right,” Dudzick says with a laugh.
By mayoral proclamation, May 5 is declared “Tom Dudzick Day” in Buffalo, in gratitude for “his contribution to his boyhood community and theater-goers nationwide.”
There’s a plaque set in cement in front of his old tavern home.
The man, raised a Catholic, is still far from a braggart.
But his family is certainly in the spotlight.
What: “Over the Tavern” by Nyack playwright Tom Dudzick
When: May 14 through June 6. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays.
Where: Penguin Rep, 7 Crickettown Road, Stony Point.
Tickets: $33, with discounts for groups of 10 or more and for those 30 and younger. (Season subscriptions, starting at $88 for a four-show season, are still on sale.)
Note: At 3 p.m. May 14, there’s a special reduced-priced weekday matinee, with tickets only $16.50. Join the cast and creative team for conversation, cake and coffee after the 2 p.m. show on May 16. On May 21, join a post-show discussion with the cast and playwright Tom Dudzick.
Photo by Peter Carr/The Journal News: Tom Dudzick watches a rehearsal of his play, “Over the Tavern,” at Penguin Rep.
Big Joe Dudzick’s Tavern in Buffalo, circa 1959, was owned and operated by Nyack playwright Tom Dudzick’s father, Joe. The Dudzick family lived one flight up, a fact that inspired Dudzick’s play, “Over the Tavern,” which opens the 2010 season at Penguin Rep in Stony Point. (Photo courtesy of Tom Dudzick)
Photo by Aaron Pepis: Christopher Cox plays Rudy and Judy Frank is Sister Clarissa in the comedy “Over the Tavern,” which opens Penguin Rep’s 2010 season.