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Over the River and Through the Woods

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Joe DiPietro

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4028

SHOWING : May 12, 2011 - June 05, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Aurora Theatre will end its 15th Anniversary season with "Over the River and Through the Woods" by Tony Award-Winner Joe DiPietro. Just like the box office record-breaking hits "Noises Off" in 2008 and "Boeing, Boeing" in 2010, Aurora Theatre gives theatre patrons a chance to start their summer with a side-splitting comedy. In the heart of an Italian-American neighborhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, Sunday dinner at the Gianelli’s house is not to be missed. Nick is the only grandson, so when he is offered a promotion that will take him to the west coast, the family goes into panic mode and no amount of cooking can solve the problem. In this heartfelt comedy about growing old, one generation struggles to understand another.


CAST & CREW LIST
Nick Cristano Jeremy Harrison
Director Tony Brown
Caitlin O'Hare Nicole Dramis
Emma Cristano Karen Howell
Aida Gianelli Susan Shalhoub Larkin
Frank Gianelli Eddie Levi Lee
Nunzio Cristano Barry Stoltze
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Pasta Famiglia
by Dedalus
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
4.5
Family ties ¡V the ones that come with unconditional love and demands ¡V can bind and sometimes even gag. For his entire life, Nick Cristano has been sharing Sunday dinner in Hoboken with all of his grandparents, Frank and Aida Gianelli and Nunzio and Emma Cristano. The four are a loving and exasperating lot, old-school first-generation Italian Americans, obsessed with family, faith and food. When Nick¡¦s new promotion threatens to take him to Washington (¡§The far-off one near California¡¨), the older generation pulls out all the stops to keep him near hearth and home and apron strings.

Joe DiPietro¡¦s ¡§Over the River and Through the Woods¡¨ has been around for a while ¡V TheatreReview.com lists five separate local productions, one of which I designed lights for a few years back (and, indeed, my wife is currently in rehearsals, directing a production at her church). I¡¦ve always found it charming piece of sentiment, eccentricity and aggravation leavened by a mile-wide streak of the sort of unconditional love only grandparents (and small children) can offer. That narrator Nick sometimes seems less than deserving can be overlooked, since, by the end of the play, he has done some major maturing.

Aurora Theatre has staged a new production that hits every note right, from the set accurately evoking a self-built Hoboken home, to the aromas of Italian cooking that seem to fill the theatre (missed revenue opportunity note ¡V why oh why was there no leftover lasagna on sale at the concession stand? ƒº), to the performances of the cast, who truly act as if they¡¦d known each other of most of their lives (pay close attention to the Trivial Pursuit game in Act II ¡V it¡¦s a triumph of character writing and ensemble acting).

This is a loud and close-knit family, miles removed from the quiet and polite Methodist grandparents I remember from my own youth. Still, they still carry a strong streak of familiarity ¡V who among us hasn¡¦t made a complete jerk of ourselves when exposed to the embarrassing ¡§shortcomings¡¨ of our own loved ones? Who among us has never wanted to pull out our hair and scream every time a loved one just ¡§doesn¡¦t GET us?¡¨ Who among us has never let these petty aggravations ruin our own affection and turn into a grudge lasting longer than the cannelloni course?

As I said above, this is truly wonderful cast. Eddie Levi Lee as Frank looks every inch the burly immigrant carpenter, frustrated as his age makes mundane tasks (like driving) suddenly difficult and more of a challenge than he can face. Barry Stolze¡¦s Nunzio is all wounded lion, raging against the illness eating him alive, yet keeping it a secret from those who love him most. Karen Howell brings to Emma a brassiness to die for (¡§dye¡¨ for, if we¡¦re talking about her hair?), only because we know she¡¦d gladly die for her family. But it is Susan Shalhoub Larkin¡¦s Aida who is the emotional center of the play, a goddess of pasta whose idea of love is inseparable from her idea of food. Her final monologue is the meat in this family confection, the reminder that the play we have been watching is not all about the laughs and groans and fights, but about the emotions and connections that have driven the story right into our hearts.

Okay, Jeremy Harrison¡¦s Nick comes across as more lace-curtain Irish than How-YOU-Doin¡¦ Italian, but he was easy to warm to, easy to see the connections that make his choices not as easy as we¡¦d like to think. He was very good at showing us Nick¡¦s aggravation with his grandparents, even better at showing the love that threaded through all of his interactions. And I REALLY liked Nicole Dramis¡¦ Caitlin O¡¦Hare (Grandma Emma¡¦s blind-date ¡§tactic¡¨ to keep Nick around), who showed a true affection for the grandparents, as well as true puzzlement at why Nick was always mad at them. I could easily believe that she was able to make Nick see his relatives through fresh eyes, and appreciate them more.

Tony Brown has directed this cast with an energy as loud as the characters, and Isabel & Moriah Curley-Clay have designed a set that beautifully evokes Frank and Aida¡¦s home (which Frank built himself), filling it with comfortable furnishings and dressings, and making it looked lived-in ¡V a home more than a set.

This is an audience-pleaser, a warm and rosy family comedy that threatens to overwhelm with sentiment but fortunately keeps that sentiment clean and earned. It is a celebration of food and family that even celebrates the humiliations and embarrassments family can inflict. And it is an ultimately moving reminder that, no matter how close families get, they are by definition a temporary arrangement, and that setting loved ones free is the truest expression of love.

And it really made me long for my own long-gone grandparents, and those quiet and polite (and only occasional) Sunday dinners that highlighted my first twenty years.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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To Grandmother's House We Go
by playgoer
Monday, May 30, 2011
4.5
"Over the River and Through the Woods" starts out as a very predictable play. A grandson meets his maternal and paternal grandparents for Sunday dinner each week. He's gotten a promotion at work that will force him to move away, and his stereotypically Italian grandparents don't want him to leave, going so far as to set him up on a blind date that they hope will end in marriage and children and staying in town. The first act plays on these stereotypes and is laugh-out-loud funny throughout. Act two takes some unexpected twists, ringing emotionally true, but not in any sort of clichéd fashion.

Aurora Theatre's production does the play justice. All the performers play their roles with humor and conviction. My only complaints were that the ruddy Eddie Levi Lee looks about as un-Italian as a person can get and that Jeremy Harrison, as the grandson, didn't quite have the projection he needed at times. (His paternal grandparents are described as the loudest people he's ever encountered, and their level of projection can be hard to match.)

The set by Isabel and Mariah Curley-Clay is very attractive in a dated, Italian-home sort of way, with a dining room on one side and a living room on the other, containing an outside playing area in front. There's a telephone pole visible behind the set, and that's really the only misstep. The tin-can transformers on it and its telephone cables don't look very authentic. The lighting design by Mary Parker requires a number of spotlit monologues, but the actors didn't always seem to hit their marks in the performance I saw, with the edges of their faces in shadow.

Director Tony Brown has brought out fine performances from everyone. Nicole Dramis is particularly appealing as the cheery blind date, Caitlin O'Hare, who has a fresh outlook on her unmarried state. The actors playing the grandparents are all pros, and their delivery is always spot-on. The accents are a little inconsistent perhaps, with Barry Stolze's New Jersey tones and Susan Shalhoub Larkin's old country intonations sounding more authentic than Eddie Levi Lee's and Karen Howell's nondescript Americanese. Jeremy Harrison is quite likeable as the main character, and he moves smoothly from narration to dialogue scenes (as do all the cast members). There's nothing to complain about in the acting.

The audience was roaring regularly with laughter in the first act and sniffling audibly near the end of the show. It's clear that author Joe DiPietro's characters connected with the audience. They are an endearing collection of personalities, and their history over a month of Sunday dinners captures the attention and touches the heartstrings and funny bones of everyone in the audience. It's a fine ending to Aurora's 2010-2011 season. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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