Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

Over The River and Through the Woods
By Joe DiPietro
Directed by Ann Swiston

 

front-rowOver The River and Through the Woodsis the story of a young man “Nick Cristano” who visits his Italian-American grandparents for lunch every Sunday in Hoboken, New Jersey. The grandparents are sweet and lovable and very Italian. Somehow Nick has to tell them to their dismay and disappointment that he has a wonderful job offer (which he really wants to accept) – in Seattle. This play has many appealing and humorous qualities, and some very funny dialogue when the old folks get mixed up and forgetful. The Trivial Pursuit game in Act 2 is a memorable piece of farce of the “Who’s On First?” genre, guaranteed to bring the house down.

The grandparents are played with enthusiasm by Georgette Richmond, Ed Tasca, Kenneth Bridges and Peggy Lord Chilton. Ed Tasca has a lot of fun doing his Italian thing as “Frank Gianelli.” His accent is entirely convincing, and he plays the mandolin rather well. The others just enjoy their parts and all the best lines, delivered with great pace. I particularly enjoyed Georgette as “Aida Gianelli” who is constantly offering food, and even plans to mail lasagna to long-suffering Nick. She also gets a huge laugh from this Lakeside audience when she says about Nick’s parents who have escaped to Florida, “Nobody leaves their family just for the weather!”

Peggy Lord Chilton is excellent as “Emma Cristano,” while Kenneth Bridges plays her loving husband “Nunzio Cristano.” He manages the transition from comic to serious with considerable skill. Kevin O’Byrne has the most difficult part as Nick – he is required to be anxious and apologetic throughout the play, while at the same time we are supposed to believe that he is a talented young marketing executive. He could at times have been more self-confident, although the author gives him little opportunity to be himself. One Sunday a young woman “Caitlin O’Hare” shows up for lunch, as the grandparents plot to keep Nick from going west. The lunch is more or less disastrous, and Heather Hunter is intelligent and attractive as Caitlin who understandably doesn’t want to know Nick better.

The second Act is more sentimental, and in spite of all the talk of faith and family Nick does go to his dream job in Seattle. One of the themes of the play is the different values between the generations – the grandparents are first generation immigrants and to them family is everything. Tengo famiglia! Meanwhile Nick, who grew up in the U.S., is an ambitious young man trying to be successful and happy in his job. In the end three of the four grandparents die, and the actors manage the change of mood with some success – Ann Swiston did well in keeping everyone on track in what could have been a strange transition. The play begins as a comedy and ends as a tearjerker. The set was effective and flexible, and I appreciated the use of the side steps as a front door entrance. Beth Leitch was Stage Manager, Ann Swiston herself was responsible for set design and Win McIntosh for set decoration.

The next play, Blood Relations by Canadian playwright Sharon Pollock, opens on January 17. This play, directed by Lynn Phelan, explores what may have happened in 1892 when Lizzie Borden was accused of murdering her father and stepmother. I understand that Sharon Pollock may be visiting Ajijic to see her own play which won a Governor-General’s Award for Drama in 1981.

 

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