Thursday, July 10, 2003
Photo: All In The Family: Greg Falge (top center) tries to break out of Jersey, despite his grandparents'' machinations.
Over the River and Through the Woods opens with the central character, Nick, complaining about the suffocating heat in his grandparents'' New Jersey home, a place the twentysomething marketing executive has been visiting every Sunday for all of his life. It sounded like a page from my own history; when I was growing up, my family would make a weekly trek to my mother''s parents, who would be ensconced in their Southern California home with all the windows and shades closed and the furnace cranked to broil. But where my grandparents were quiet and reserved, and meals came from cans and boxes, Nick''s grandparents are ebullient, and meals are celebratory events.
I experienced some of that, too. My father''s sister had married into a Sicilian family, and the noise at family gatherings...everyone talking at once, food being shoved at you, hugging, yelling, ah! the noise!...was always amazing. And here, too, Over the River rings true. And that''s the great strength of both Joe DiPietro''s script and this production.
The script isn''t exactly a heavyweight intellectual enterprise. As the play opens Nick tells his grandparents, Frank and Aida, and Nunzio and Emma, he''s been offered a promotion and is considering moving to Seattle. During his last month in town, Nick and his grandparents wrestle with the pain of his departure. As an enticement to stay, they even come up with an eligible young woman, Caitlin.
It''s tough to figure whether playwright DiPietro was trying to write a simple homage to life in an Italian-American family, or was trying to say something more meaningful about the importance of following one''s dreams.
While the script does contain references to each of the characters'' dreams and hopes, as immigrants and family-builders, those references tend to get lost. Certainly Jack Stauffer''s direction in this production emphasizes the characters'' robust pride in family and their enjoyment of life. Working on Laura Cote''s appropriately stuffy, single-room set, Stauffer keeps the action moving at a fast pace, as the characters bicker and banter their way through games, meals and family discussions.
Despite the disparity in accents, Stauffer and his cast have created characters that are as memorable as they are believable. As Nick, Greg Falge does a nice job of displaying both his exasperation with his family, as well as his abiding love and respect. Michael Robbins'' crusty, lovable Frank has his strongest emotional scenes when recalling the day his father put him on a boat and sent him to America.
Nancy Kocher''s Aida, "an Einstein in the kitchen," provides a dependably loving wife and devoted grandmother preoccupied with keeping her brood fed. Nunzio, as performed by Robert Vallerga, is quietly noble behind his blustery facade. Rounding out the family, Neva Hahns offers a feisty, scheming Emma, whose devotion to her husband is delivered with quiet dignity. And Monica Johnson does a nice job with the complicated role of Caitlin, who has been dragged almost unwittingly into the family''s drama.
In the end, there seems to be a disappointing lack of meat--either emotional or intellectual--to Over the River and Through the Woods, but during the time it plays, there are plenty of laughs and enough action to make for a satisfying evening in the theater.
Over the River and Through the Woods continues at the Magic Circle Center through July 27. 659-1108.