Over the River and Through the Woods

Written by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Gina Wilkinson
Performed by Matthew Deslippe, Jerry Franken, Barbara Gordon, Tara Hughes, A. Frank Ruffo, Lorna Wilson
Grand Theatre, London
October 19 to November 6, 2004
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Dysfunctional can be beautiful when it comes to families

“Over the River and Through the Woods” which opened Friday at London’s Grand Theatre, is good, very good. Good direction of a good cast, with a good script on a good set, with good lighting.

It’s the story of Nick, who at 29, is stuck as the only family member left in New Jersey to keep an eye on both sets of grandparents. His parents have retired and moved to Florida, his sister went to California. So every Sunday he goes to Nan and Gramps for dinner, and if that’s not enough, the other pair of grandparents joins them. All four grandparents adore Nick and dote on him, and they are driving him crazy!

So when he announces that he has a chance for a great promotion that involves a move to Seattle, they commence to lay on the guilt trip and try everything to make him stay. They even invite a nice girl for dinner in the hopes he’ll be interested in her and decide not to move – creating the most embarrassing evening ever for Nick.

Much is made of the fact that this is an Italian family, and to Italians, family is everything. But the interesting thing is – just like the “Big Fat Greek Wedding” movie – it doesn’t matter what the ethnic background is. Everyone in that theatre recognized the situations – we all have parents or grandparents with crazy idiosyncrasies just like those on stage, or we’ve all had moments when we were bratty selfish kids like Nick. This family, like most families, is not dysfunctional, just normal.

The humour lies in that feeling of recognition. With every well-written line, audience members had that “been there, done that” feeling. Sometimes I identified with Nick, rolling his eyes at his grandfather who won’t turn on the air conditioner because it’s only June – doesn’t matter that it’s really really hot, gotta save the electricity. Sometimes I identified with the older generation, watching the younger generation grow up. How do you deal with a kid jumping up and down screaming, “I’m an adult” while he’s looking like a three-year old?

The cast was excellent – totally believable in their delivery of the well-written script. Matthew Deslippe played Nick and produced the most realistic temper tantrum ever seen on stage. Jerry Franken and Barbara Gordon were paternal grandparents Frank and Emma, while A. Frank Ruffo and Lorna Wilson were the maternal grandparents Nunzio and Aida. The chemistry between each couple and among the foursome was excellent. Tara Hughes as the blind date Caitlin was also very good.

To emphasize the Italian heritage, the Grand has invited members of London’s Italian community to make cameo appearances. On opening night, the audience was treated to Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco playing the part of a delivery person.

Author Joe DiPietro has written a very witty story, packed with comedy and a hint of tragedy. The first act is one hearty laugh after another as the generations clash, but still love each other madly. The second act has some poignant moments as the circle of life continues.

It isn’t often that I sit through an entire production and can’t even find one tiny little thing to pick at, but that was the case here. For a very enjoyable evening out, go see “Over the River” – you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll be glad you went.

“Over the River and Through the Woods” continues at the Grand Theatre, on Richmond Street in London until November 6. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593.


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