If we can put a man on the moon, then anything is possible.
That was the thinking for those of us who can remember Neil Armstrong’s first steps on that distant orb. And so it was with the Pazinski family of Buffalo, N.Y., who are at the center of “King O’ the Moon,” the gentle dramedy at at Circle Theatre.
The play, which is the middle part of a trilogy by contemporary playwright Tom Dudzick, takes place in the Pazinski’s back yard as the drama of the lunar landing is unfolding in July 1969.
As was so often the case in the 1960s, the Pazinskis are all on journeys of their own. Ellen (Julienne Greer), the widow who heads the family, is coping with three grown children who are entering adulthood through different doors, and a mentally challenged son, Georgie (Kyle Montgomery), who will always be a child.
Eddie (Chris Rothbauer) has joined the Army and is about to ship out to Vietnam, leaving behind his pregnant wife, Maureen (Alexandria Fazzari).
Rudy (Jacob Oderberg) is studying to be a priest. But he has become caught up in the anti-war movement and his family complains that he reeks of tear gas.
The prickly sister, Annie (Diana Bloxom Barbaro), is dealing with a marriage to a man who loves his model trains more than he loves her. On the fringe is Walter Fronzak (David H.M. Lambert), a family friend who runs the bar adjacent to the Pazinski home.
The family is gathered at this particular time for what it calls its own “state of the union” address, wherein one of the family members delivers a speech to their departed patriarch to let him know how things are with the family.
It is Rudy’s turn this year, and we learn that he is going to have plenty to tell.
In addition to Eddie’s deployment and coming baby, there is the question of whether Rudy with stick with seminary school and what Annie should do about her increasingly unbearable marriage. Also, it looks like mom might have something significant to report.
So there are a lot of balls in the air in this easy-going slice of family life directed by TCU theater department chairman Harry Parker. As the astronauts try to plant their footsteps on the moon, the Pazinskis are trying to put down footsteps toward the rest of their lives.
Despite all the issues facing the characters, not a great deal happens in “King o’ the Moon,” which is the sixth Dudzick play presented by this company. It is the theatrical equivalent of a lazy, summer day with just enough dramatic tension to keep the audience comfortably engaged.
The strongest moments in this show arise in a few two-character confrontations, where Dudzick’s gift for dialogue really glows.
The acting is generally strong. Oderberg has the dominant role and does well with it. Greer’s performance is so easy and smooth that the high quality of her work runs the risk of going unnoticed. Rothbauer and Fazzari are well cast and fully absorb their characters. Montgomery provides some wonderful comic relief. Lambert makes us love his romantically maladroit bartender. Only Barbaro is overmatched by her part.
Also of note is an excellent set by Clare Floyd DeVries. Her attempt to create a credible two-story tree house in Circle’s cozy confines doesn’t always work, but you have to admire the ambition of that.
The only real failings in the show are a couple of fight scenes where the blows are so faked as to be comic. But, in the production’s defense, it is hard to stage a believable fight scene on any stage, and especially one in a small theater.
The key to enjoying “King O’ the Moon” is buying into the Pazinski family and caring about what happens to the characters. And largely because Dudzick’s writing has such charm, Parker and his cast are able to make that easy to do.