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Everybody loves Nick
The Fort Wayne Civic goes … to Hoboken
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
The play is called Over the River and Through the Woods, and while the title obviously references the holiday song and may conjure pastoral images of snow-covered fields and country lanes, the tone and setting of Joe DiPietro’s family comedy is something else entirely.
It’s set in New Jersey, for one, and features the older members of an Italian-American family and their grandson Nick, a New York businessman. And the scene isn’t the holidays — it’s the regular Sunday dinner Nick always has with his two sets of grandparents.
But that said, there’s something about Over the River and Through the Woods that’s as comfortable and inviting as the images the song evokes.
“This play and the characters will seem very familiar to some people,” says Jeff Moore, director of the Fort Wayne Civic’s production, which begins its run on September 12. “(The play) is not necessarily conventional, but it’s comfortable. We know these people, we tell stories about them and have heard other people tell stories about them.”
To expand the set-up a little bit — Nick Cristano (Cory Schmidt) is a marketing manager in New York who makes the trip out to Hoboken every Sunday to have dinner with both sets of grandparents, Frank and Aida Gianelli (John Brennan and Maggie Kole Hunter) and Nunzio and Emma Cristano (James Del Priore and JoAnne Kirchner). The grandparents enjoy each other’s company, and Nick is very close to them both.
But one Sunday, Nick makes an announcement — he’s been offered his dream job. In Seattle. “The grandparents don’t want him to go, so they devise a scheme to get him to stay that involves a little romantic intrigue,” says Moore.
Enter Caitlin O’Hare (Carolynn Stouder), a nurse and the niece of one of the grandmother’s canasta partners…
If this all sounds like it’s venturing into, say, Everybody Loves Raymond territory, or maybe Golden Girls… Well, Jeff Moore wouldn’t necessarily contradict you. He also hears and sees more than a little Neil Simon in there. “I get echoes of Broadway Bound and Brighton Beach Memoirs in this play,” he says. “It’s very reminiscent of those comedies, where you have a young man dealing with family, directly addressing the audience, looking back on a certain period of his life.”
So, while certain aspects of Over the River and Through the Woods may not seem particularly original, it’s virtues are the same as the best kind of situation comedies — it doesn’t necessarily do anything new, but it does what it does very, very well.
And it’s also blisteringly funny. Anyone who appreciates a perfectly executed set-up and punchline, or a clever, well delivered one-liner (and who doesn’t) will love spending time with Nick and his grandparents.
But like those Neil Simon plays Moore talks about, Over the River and Through the Woods carries an emotional resonance, too. It wouldn’t be quite accurate to say the play turns more somber in the second act, as Nick moves closer to “decision time,” but a tone that’s a little more reflective levens the jokes somewhat. “Behind the facile humor is a sort of bittersweet quandary we all have — what does family mean to us, and what is it like when we have to confront those bonds maybe being dissolved,” Moore says.
Of course, material like this sinks or swims with its cast, and Moore counts himself very fortunate. “There are a lot of ‘fresh faces’ in this play, a lot of people I haven’t worked with before, or haven’t seen in a long time,” he says. “It’s been a lot of fun to watch these actors take this story on and find these characters.”
The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents Over the River and Through the Woods
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Friday, September 12 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 13 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, September 14 at 2:00 PM — matinee
Friday, September 19 at 8:00 PM
Saturday, September 20 at 8:00 PM
Sunday, September 21 at 2:00 PM — matinee
Tickets: $26 Adults; $22 Seniors; $17 Age 23 and under
Prices include ArtsTix Box Office fees
For tickets, call (260) 424-5220 or go to fwcivic.org