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.”
The play is full of one-liners and Nick is usually at the back end of the punch line. The way he handles the situations and his grandparents is comedy at it’s best. The dinner scene when Nick is blindsided by his grandparents is hilarious and memorable.
The theme of family, faith and food is carried throughout the production. The New York Daily News deemed “Over the River and Through the Woods” “deliriously funny” and the Houston Chronicle says the play “wins the audience with humor, warmth and charm.”
The show is directed by Dick Helmcamp, who also plays the part of Frank. Playing his wife, Aida, is Barbara Rose. Both characters, born in Italy, do an excellent job of maintaining Italian accents yet keeping it clearly understandable for the audience. The two seasoned actors are a perfect match as the Gianellis.
Trich Zaitoon and Barry Swindall are the Cristanos. These two wonderful actors are perfect as the “loud” Cristanos. Perfect opposites of the Gianellis, their families are united when their son marries the Gianelli’s daughter. All four grandparents in this production maintain the bantering back and forth of husband and wife yet they manage to show the love that has developed between them.
Christin Adams, a lovely young lass, plays the part of Caitlin beautifully. She is the typical Irish lady in looks as well as in actions and speech. Adams is pleasing to see on stage and handles herself well against the “old pros.”
If the rest of the cast are planets then Andrew Guzman as Nicholas Cristano is the sun. This young man is exceptional in his portrayal of the grandson. He has just the perfect amount of frustration when needed yet exhibit’s a loving quality that can only come from deep in the heart. He is torn between breaking the hearts of his grandparents or taking a promotion that only comes once in a lifetime and after a lot of hard work.
This show is definitely one of Carnegie’s finest. You will experience a roller coaster ride of emotions and will love every minute of that ride.
The technical aspects of the show are one of Carnegie‘s finest. The lights/spots/mikes by Andy Newby, Hazel Bell, Beth Wygant, Claudia Gaarz and Jesse Ashcraft, work perfectly adding a huge bonus to the entire show. All changes between scenes are perfectly executed by stage manager Devin Moralez. Props by Laura Gutzman, including a lot of food preparation, are just right. Beth Wygant is the producer. Hillard Cochran was the designer of the set while Jeff Wright built it.
Mayre Stewart brought it to life with her scenic design. Patsy Helmcamp heads up house management. All these people perform their individual and collective jobs nicely resulting in an error-free, wonderful evening of theatre.
The show runs for two weekends with performances at 7:30 tonight, Saturday night and March 22-23 and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and March 24.
All performances are in the Performing Arts Center in the Cleburne Conference Center.
Additional information can be found online at www.carnegieplayers.org or by calling 817-645-9255.