Buffalo comes out of Tom Dudzick’s pores. You can hear it in his voice and in the voices of his characters.
Local audiences have delighted at Dudzick’s clever plays, which have started the last three seasons at Stony Point’s Penguin Rep: “Our Lady of South Division Street”?(now titled “Miracle of South Division Street”), “Over the Tavern” (the play that put him on the map and earned him hometown fame) and “Greetings!” which plays Penguin through June 12.
Long before he gained fame as the chronicler of his native Buffalo, playwright Tom Dudzick was just a kid growing up over his dad’s bar, Big Joe Dudzick’s.
Years later, fresh out of college at SUNY?Fredonia, he was playing piano in another bar — Charlie’s Old-Timer in his college town — and earning money painting DayGlo cartoons on the bar’s black walls. (It was, after all, the mid-’70s.)
When the bar’s owner, his friend John Cimasi, told Dudzick his brother wanted to start a dinner theater on a riverboat moored in Buffalo, it marked a turning point in Dudzick’s life.
The first show was called “Make Your Moves with Confidence.”
And he was off, writing songs and scenes, often playing the lead roles, too.
For the next six years, the works of Cimasi and Dudzick built a theatrical empire of sorts, with productions in restaurants across Buffalo, in Pittsburgh and St. Louis.
“I made my living doing those shows,” he recalls. “At one time, John had about 200 actors on the payroll.”
He can still warble a song he wrote more than 30 years ago, a bouncy ditty called “Buffalo” from a show called “So’s Your Old Man,” in which Dudzick played a speakeasy owner named “Fingers.”
I’m singing about Buffalo,
I’m swinging about the town that beats them all, hands down.
I would rather be here than in the land of cotton.
Not Cincinnati but Buffalo…”
“Being on stage, steady for six years, I learned what an audience will laugh at, and why they laugh at it, and how to deliver a line so that I can write them.”
Here are 10 Things You Might Not Know about Nyack’s Tom Dudzick:
1. His dad, “Big Joe,” stood 6 feet 11 and was a star basketball player at Canisius College.
2. Buffalo put a bronze marker on the sidewalk where Big Joe’s tavern once stood. It reads:?“On This Spot, 770 Seneca Street, Stood “Big Joe” Dudzick’s Tavern (1946-1966), Boyhood Home Of Playwright Tom Dudzick, Inspiration For “Chet’s Bar and Grill,” Immortalized In His Play “Over the Tavern” First Presented By Studio Arena Theatre in 1994.”
3. Dudzick’s real-life brother, Mike, had Down syndrome, inspiring not only the character of Mickey in “Greetings!” but also Georgie Pazinski in “Over the Tavern.” Mike died in 2009.
4. He met his wife, Holly Caster — also a writer — on a blind date. It was at a vegetarian restaurant steps from Shubert Alley in the Theater District. “I’m not a vegetarian, but Holly is and I’d have met her anywhere,” he says.
They live in Nyack with their children, Charlie and Emma.
5. He does all the laundry in the Dudzick household. “I don’t do the kids’ laundry anymore. You can’t raise a kid to not do laundry. They have to learn how to do laundry.”
6. He always thought he’d be a cartoonist.
“From 7th grade until I graduated from college, I was going to be a cartoonist. I was going to have a syndicated comic strip in the papers, like my plays in comic-book form, about family life. Then I got bit by the theater bug.”
7. He was a music major at Fredonia, until he realized they were trying to make him a music teacher.
“The guy was teaching our class how to teach our students to clean a clarinet and I figured that was so far from what I wanted to do.”
8. He immediately put his music degree to work, in a ketchup factory.
“I worked in the salad-dressing division of Red Wing ketchup factory,” he says with a smile. “It was my job to take a box of clean empty bottles and put them onto a conveyor belt to be filled.”
9. After moving to New York City in 1979, he worked for 10 years as an administrative assistant at Bankers Trust Company.
10. His proudest playwriting moment was the 2005 Buffalo opening night of “Don’t Talk to the Actors,” a play he wrote about bringing “Greetings!” to the stage.
“I just love the play so much,” he says. “It’s fun, it’s about show business, about a rehearsal. And the audience was killing themselves.”
That production was directed by Tom Caruso and starred Richard Kline, the director and star of “Greetings!” — now on stage at Penguin Rep.
Photo by Peter Carr/The Journal News: Tom Dudzick at Penguin Rep last summer.