“Over the River and Through the Woods,” now playing at the Santa Maria Civic Theatre, is about a single Italian-American from New Jersey who visits his two sets of grandparents every Sunday in Hoboken for dinner.
However, he has news that he will soon be moving across the country to Washington for a new job.
Both sets of grandparents have the typical old-world Italian style and all of the old and clichéd stereotypical habits are here.
Which left me terrified at the intermission.
Every one of the characteristics from both grandmothers and both grandfathers I have experienced in my own family. Dealing with every trauma was dealt with by eating, every member of the family was loud, they only heard what they wanted to hear, and they were convinced every thought they had was the correct idea for each situation.
Then in the second act, I began to realize that all those crazy personality traits, which were spot on, were what I loved about my own crazy family.
They were put on this earth to drive me crazy — but their love for me is what drives them.
Written by Tony Award-winning playwright Joe Di Pietro (“Memphis”) — who knows a bit of what he is talking about here, as someone born into an Italian-American family and raised in New Jersey — the play is funny and well-written.
As directed by Stewart Wenger, “Over the River and Through the Woods” is well-paced and extremely well-acted, especially by the four actors playing the grandparents.
John Shade and Cathy DeLaurentis are terrific as Frank and Aida Gianelli. Frank seems almost clueless to what is happening around him, but he is very aware; he just chooses to stay out of the fray, while Aida is always feeding everyone to hide anything she does not want to face.
As Nunzio and Emma Cristano, Bob Larsen and Valerie Pallai are wonderful. Nunzio has a piece of terrible news to share but avoids it at all costs, while Emma comes up with a plan to keep their grandson around.
The best line in the play comes from Larsen about the family’s “passion.”
I was very impressed by the way Pallai and Shade moved around as old senior citizens, especially the way Pallai added little nuances to her character that were well thought out and performed.
The role of the grandson, Nick Cristano, is shared by two actors. For the performance I saw, Iain Freckleton plays Nick. Freckleton does a good job as the befuddled grandson. He has no patience for what his elders have to say or do, and is always at his wits’ end.
Emma comes up with a plan to keep Nick around and invites a young friend Caitlin to a Sunday dinner for a fix-up. This role is also shared, and I saw Sydney Asencio in the role. She is good as a shy nurse, who likes Nick but doesn’t like the way he treats his grandparents.
The play moves along briskly and the actors take turns breaking the fourth wall with the audience to offer some back story and their feelings about what is going on. The monologues are well written and nicely delivered by the cast and lighted very well.
Lisa Luis, Sergio Soto and Shade are credited with the lighting and sound, and they also picked some classic Italian-American songs for scene changes and intermission.
The set design by Cliff Buck with Jim Dahmen is outstanding.
There are plenty of laughs throughout the play and the end is emotional and satisfying. And after spending a couple hours with this crazy and frustrating family, I realized something — I kind of love my family, even with all the warts and yelling.