They say the only thing permanent in life is change. Sometimes that’s good. Sometimes that’s bad. Sometimes, as in Carnegie’s family offering of “Over the River and Through the Woods,“ change can be devastatingly funny, achingly heartbreaking and poignantly revealing.
The show was written by Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”) in memory of his grandparents. It played first off-Broadway in 1998, then 800 performances on Broadway, and since has been produced all over the world.
The four grandparents, Aida and Frank Gianelli and Emma and Nunzio Cristano, are Italian-Americans living in Hoboken, N.J. Their grandson, Nick Cristano, lives in the city and has dinner with them every Sunday.
Nick is the only one of the family still living close and their life is pretty much centered on him. The problem arises when Nick announces that he has received a promotion at work, a promotion that will require him to move to Seattle, in Washington. “Not the close-by Washington, the far-away Washington — by California.”
They immediately begin plotting to find a reason to make him stay in New Jersey. The “reason” they create is a lovely, young Irish lass by the name of Caitlin O’Hare, who just happens to be the unmarried niece of Emma’s canasta partner. When Nick comes for this weekly Sunday dinner he is in for a big surprise.
Under the cacophony of brilliant dialogue, including one of the wackiest Trivial Pursuit games ever seen on stage, the play has a serious cultural point to make. Previous generations worked hard to give their children and grandchildren better lives. Those “better lives” are now so far removed from their own reality that they don’t understand them at all.
“The biggest difference between these generations is their concept of family and home,” DiPietro said. “They believed that the family was central, and work is something you just do to provide for them. For our generation, it’s a lot more complicated.”