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THEATER REVIEW: "King o' The Moon" has a busy but resonating plot

Remember the Pazinskis, that Polish-American clan who live above the family-owned Buffalo bar in “Over The Tavern?”

They’re back, in “King O’ The Moon,” the second play in Tom Dudzick’s Pazinski trilogy, playing through May 8 at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Matt Thompson directs.

It’s a decade later (1969), the kids have grown up, the country is watching TV reports of the imminent landing of Apollo 11 on the moon, and the U.S. is becoming ever more deeply mired in the Vietnam War.

Patriarch Chet (played by Thompson in the last play) has died and widow Ellen (Kandis Chappell) is preparing for the fifth anniversary of his death. Ellen is quite capable of playing the solo matriarch, but has appreciated the help and friendship of Chet’s friend Walter (John Herzog), a widower himself.

Change is afoot in the family as in the outside world. Son Rudy (Kevin Koppman-Gue) is playing hooky from the seminary (where he is studying for the priesthood) in order to join a quintet of hippies for an anti-war demonstration.

Rudy doesn’t believe in hell and is beginning to question other tenets of the faith. He will find his faith in church doctrine tested in another way when he hears of sister Annie’s marital problems.

Rudy’s brother Eddie (Ross Hellwig) has been drafted and will soon ship out to 'Nam, leaving pregnant wife Maureen (Sunny Smith), the earthy, fiery-haired Irish newcomer to the family.

Annie (Kyrsten Hafso), stuck in a loveless marriage to a train nut, doesn’t believe in much of anything and has traded her fondness for junk food for a nicotine addiction.

And mentally challenged brother Georgie (Julian Conrad) is the same sweet, lovable child he was, but now in a man’s body. Georgie is distraught about his missing catechism medal.

That’s a busy plot with many strands to juggle, but Dudzick (sometimes called the Catholic Neil Simon) pulls it off nicely with sharply (and amusingly) drawn characters and engaging dialogue that will both keep you laughing and give you something to think about on the way home.

And it’s all played out with the impending lunar landing as backdrop, heard but not seen in occasional re-created TV reports.

Kandis Chappell anchors the cast and the family with grit, resolve and humor. Koppman-Gue plays the newly minted peacenik with the youthful enthusiasm his predecessor (Ian Brininstool) showed as the younger Rudy in the first play.

Hellwig is just right as the hot-headed Eddie and a perfect match for Smith’s earthiness.

Herzog turns in a solid performance as the pal who longs for more from Ellen.

Conrad hits the right notes in the most difficult part of Georgie, never breaking character, always an open-hearted delight as the child-like man.

Hafso’s anger and hurt as the ignored housewife are touching and nearly palpable.

Marty Burnett’s broken-down (okay, lived-in) backyard set serves nicely, and the production is ably assisted by Valerie Henderson’s costumes, Chris Luessmann’s sound design and Matt Novotny’s lighting.

There are family plays which do little more than point out the dysfunctions (the vaunted “August: Osage County” comes to mind), and there are little comedies like “King O’ The Moon,” which amuse while giving you something to think about.

Make mine Dudzick.

The details

"King o’ The Moon" plays through May 8, 2011 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach.

Wednesday and Sunday at 7 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m.; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

For tickets call (858) 481-1055 or visit www.northcoastrep.org.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.