Reviewed by George Basler

Over the Pub is a strange little play indeed. Billed as “a warm and hilarious look at family, growing up and God,” it has long moments that defy this description. Instead, the play veers into the darker territory of a troubled family in real crisis.

The “dramedy,” being produced by BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier), opened last weekend (March 17-20) at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott and will continue this weekend (March 25-27). The seven actors do solid jobs in their roles, and director Kate Murray has done efficient work, especially in coaxing winning performances from some younger actors in the play.

Still, the production can’t disguise the play’s inconsistent tone and how the comedy and drama never gel in a cohesive way.

Over the Pub is the work of Buffalo-born playwright Tom Dudzick. Originally called Over the Tavern, the play is loosely based on the playwright’s growing up years in an upstate New York city. Tavern focused on the inner dynamics of the Pazinski family, living in a cramped apartment above their neighborhood saloon in the early 1960s.

Over the Pub, adapted by Dolores Mannion, transfers the action to County Cork, Ireland, where the renamed Murphy family live in a cramped apartment over the family pub.

The main character is Tommy Murphy, a precocious, wise-cracking 12-year-old (extremely well-played by young actor Jack Wolf).

Other members of the family include Ellen Murphy (Kathleen Cook), a hard-pressed mother who is working to keep her brood together; Eddie Murphy (Liam Roma), Tommy’s older brother, who is beginning to discover the joys of the opposite sex; Annie Murphy (Elizabeth Hotalen), Tommy’s older sister, who is also beginning to discover the joys of the opposite sex, and Mikie Murphy (Nolan Whigham), Tommy’s mentally challenged younger brother.

The clan is presided over by a dyspeptic father, Pat Murphy (Larry Guidici), who owns the pub and has anger management issues.

The action centers on the family’s reaction when Tommy knocks heads with a crotchety Catholic school nun, Sister Mary Agnes (Bridget Callaghan-Kane), by questioning Catholic doctrine and expressing a desire to adopt a more “fun” religion.

Over the Pub does has its high points. Some of the comic moments are laugh-out-loud funny. Many of these involved Wolf, who is genuinely humorous and gives a skilled performance that belies his age. Scenes in which Tommy talks to God are humorous in a perceptive way and are arguably the play’s best moments.

But the play’s tone, especially in the first act, whipsaws between Father Knows Best and Long Day’s Journey into Night.  In fact, for a long stretch in Act One, the laughs largely disappear. 

The play relies heavily on stock characters. Sister Mary Agnes is a stereotype of every “tough as nails” nun of Catholic school lore. Callaghan-Kane’s over-the-top performance draws laughs, but they are cheap, easy laughs.

And some plot points just don’t ring true. Sister Mary Agnes, who has been a holy terror in Act One, suddenly becomes sympathetic and understanding toward Tommy in Act Two. Callaghan-Kane skillfully plays these moments with a nice restraint that humanizes the character, but the abrupt change is never totally believable.

Callaghan-Kane also has an emotional scene with Guidici in which she reveals a painful secret that helps explain the father’s simmering anger. Suddenly, the angry father becomes an understanding paterfamilias. Both actors do a fine job in playing this “big reveal.” But, again, the script lacks believability.

Supporting cast members give capable performances. Roma and Hotalen both do good work in accurately capturing the difficult period of adolescence when the hormones are beginning to pop, and teenagers want to spread their wings.

Cook gives a sympathetic portrayal as the beleaguered mother, especially when she rises to Tommy’s defense in his confrontation with the ruler-wielding Sister Mary Agnes. Guidici does a compelling job as the father.

Then there’s Mikie, the mentally challenged son. Whigham draws laughs as his character repeatedly yells a scatological epithet at inopportune moments. But making a special needs child a comic caricature is problematic in this day and age.

Over the Pub has been a hit in some regional theaters across the country, and the opening night audience at the Cider Mill Stage seemed to have a good time with this solid production. But, from this perspective, the play itself needs some fine tuning.

IF YOU GO: Performances of Over the Pub will be 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (March 25-27) at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Tickets at $25 can be reserved by visiting or by calling 607-321-9630. Current CDC protocols concerning COVID will be followed.