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Lake Effect: Another Excellent Production by the Lake George Dinner Theatre, Review

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Tom Dudzick’s Lake Effect at the Lake George Dinner Theatre, Review

A Unique Comedy-Drama set during the Blizzard of ’77

Kate Konigisor, Chris Triebel, Bryan McElroy, Hillary Parker and Zack Bissell in the Lake George Dinner Theatre's Production of Tom Dudzick's Lake Effect. Photo Courtesy of the Lake George Dinner Theatre.A local pub in its final days. A dysfunctional family. A blizzard to end all blizzards. All three of these ingredients serve as crucial elements in Lake Effect, now running at the Lake George Dinner Theatre through October 11, 2014.

Lake Effect is the third part of Tom Dudzick’s Over the Tavern trilogy, which focuses on the Pazinski family, a close-knit, yet dysfunctional Catholic family who live above a local pub, Chet’s Bar & Grill, in Buffalo, New York.

Dudzick’s trilogy spans some 25 years: The first play, Over the Tavern (which was produced by LGDT in 2002) is set in the late 1950s; the second installment, King o’ the Moon, tackles issues the family face as the eldest son Eddie is set to ship out to Vietnam and younger son Rudy considers becoming a seminarian. Lake Effect, the third installment, deals with the family’s experiences during the horrific Blizzard of 1977, which paralyzed parts of Western and Upstate New York, primarily the Buffalo area. Winds ranged from 46 to 69 miles per hour and snowfalls of up to 100 inches were reported in some areas. Needless to say, it was a deadly storm.

Much of Lake Effect is evidently autobiographical in nature, as Dudzick himself was stranded at a dinner theater for several days while working on a show during the 1977 storm. What’s also interesting is that Dudzick was raised in a similar environment; his father owned a bar, Big Joe Dudzick’s Tavern, in Buffalo, and it’s quite evident that the character of Rudy is based on experiences in Dudzick’s life.

As Lake Effect unfolds, the blizzard of ’77 is well underway. Ellen (Kate Konigisor), the family matriarch, has lived above Chet’s Bar for decades and the establishment has been sold to make way for a Vietnamese restaurant; she also appears to be suffering from an early form of senility. Her son Eddie (Brian McElroy) has returned from the Vietnam War, and is readjusting with his return to civilian life, by helping prepare the bar for its new owners. The daughter, Annie (Hillary Parker), looks after Ellen, Eddie and her developmentally disabled sibling Georgie (Zack Bissell), who needs constant supervision. It’s during this storm that the fourth child, Rudy (Chris Triebel), comes to visit the family from New York City.

Not all is hunky dory in this nuclear family; multiple plot threads are at the core of Lake Effect:

Kate Konigisor and Chris Triebel in the Lake George Dinner Theatre's Production of Tom Dudzick's Lake Effect. Photo Courtesy of the Lake George Dinner Theatre.Rudy is a struggling playwright with a baby on the way, and his choice to distance himself somewhat from the family, especially Eddie, is one of Lake Effect’s main plot developments. Eddie and Rudy are at odds with one another, since Eddie resents that Rudy didn’t go to Vietnam as well, and yet Rudy admits that he was upset to see Eddie go overseas. Either way, they attempt to make amends, despite Eddie staying in Buffalo to help to keep the bar going, while Rudy has chosen to relocate to NYC.

Another conflict arises between Annie (who is sort of an emotional wreck) and her mother, when Ellen announces that she’s planning to move to an apartment after the bar is sold. Georgie will be relocated to a nearby facility where he can get better care, yet he hasn’t been told this bit of information; Ellen is so attached to Georgie that she fears telling him the truth will devastate him.

Then there are conflicts about religion. Rudy announces that he and his wife will not baptize their child as a Catholic. Annie has problems with this, and it turns the course of the play into a discussion on religious choice. Rudy’s wife is Jewish, which also seems to be an issue, yet the family is unable to dissuade Rudy’s decision, on which he seems defiant.

These issues are not unusual for every family. And what strikes the viewer is that Dudzick has intricately meshed both elements of drama and comedy in an entertaining show. While overly dramatic in tone, Lake Effect doesn’t beat you over the head with pathos; the comical elements are evenly distributed throughout and give a realistic perception on how a family, despite their differences, comes to grips with numerous issues.

The Lake George Dinner Theatre once again delivers a great show, featuring a unique blend of comedy and drama. A fine cast has been assembled under the direction Terry Rabine, with each actor portraying a role filled with quirky eccentricities that everyone can relate to. McElroy gives a terrific performance as Eddie; at times he comes off angry, but underneath his gruff exterior, there is a caring soul. This is most evident during his scenes with Chris Triebel (Rudy), who at first seems distant and almost snobbish, compared to the rest of the family, yet eventually you realize that it’s a façade of sorts, and he comes down to earth in order to comes to terms with the family, especially Eddie. As Annie, Ms. Parker offers a portrayal of a young woman who is clearly an emotional wreck, and extremely fragile due to the stress of having to deal with all of the family’s issues. Probably the most difficult performance is that of Zack Bissell as Georgie, who perfectly captures the innocence and intellectualism of a small child trapped within a grown man’s body.

The play has a terrific set design, courtesy of Christina Steigerwald. The LGDT stage has always been a versatile environment, able to be transformed into many different settings, but here you can really feel that you’re in a dingy dive bar on its last legs. Rachel Budin’s lighting effects help add a dark atmosphere to the grungy environment

In spite of all the family dysfunction, at the core of Lake Effect is heart; these are characters that care for one another and are able to put their disagreements aside to show general compassion.

Lake Effect runs through October 11, 2014 at the Lake George Dinner Theatre, located at the Holiday Inn Resort in Lake George. For more information, visit or call the Box Office at 518-668-5762, ext. 411.

Dave Bower is Co-Publisher of The Free George. Photos Courtesy of the Lake George Dinner Theatre.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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