Over the River… is the story of Nick Cristano – a 29-year-old marketing executive in New York City who dutifully comes out to Hoboken to have dinner with all four grandparents every Sunday night. But this week, he’s made it out to Jersey on a Thursday to make a big announcement: he’s been offered a promotion that will take him far from home. His grandparents, of course, have a few opinions about this, and they’re not shy about airing them.
The cast is, to put it simply, fantastic. The rapid-fire grandparent-speak (we’ve all heard it) is delivered with superb timing and great affection, earning every last laugh, and drawing us in close enough that the moments of sweetness and sadness are all the more poignant. And, the five actors who made up the family achieve one of the rarest of all theatrical feats: a family with dialects that actually sound like they’re related to each other! It’s almost difficult to review each performance separately, they are such an effective ensemble. Andrew Faber as grandson Nick, David Daoust and Gloria Vivalda as maternal grandparents Frank and Aida, and Arthur J. Beer and Mary Bremer Beer as paternal grandparents Nunzio and Emma are uniformly warm and funny and full of charm. They feed off of each other to create a joyous explosion of love – including the pain that inevitably comes with deep love. There is a phenomenal rhythm of familiarity among the characters – one that is only reinforced by the appearance of outsider Caitlin O’Hara (played with unassuming ease by Carolyn Conover). And though the entire cast is wonderful, I developed a special fondness for Arthur J. Beer’s gentle, nuanced performance. His Nunzio plays the range of bombastic life of the party to supremely vulnerable aging man with a natural grace that just made me love him.
Director Tony Caselli does a great job with staging in the tricky little Williamston space. He gives all three sides plenty to look at from moment to moment. And his work with the ensemble of actors is, as I mentioned before, wonderful. The world of this play is clear and engaging, and Caselli’s production effectively leads the audience through the story with a great deal of heart, without ever getting mired in excessive sentimentality. Bravo! Holly Iler's costume design is almost unnoticeable - and I mean that in a good way. The characters all look so natural - so much themselves - that it's easy to forget that they've been costumed. Daniel C. Walker’s scenic design is effective and a creative use of the space, though I must admit, I found the ring of crown molding circling the top of the stage distracting and unnecessary. The lighting design by Brian M. Scruggs is simple, but communicative – he skillfully guides the audience’s focus from moment to moment, and I particularly liked the delicate evening tone of the scenes on the front porch. Aral Gribble’s sound design beautifully conjures the feel of the Italian home. And I defy you to resist bopping in your seat or even singing along a little during pre-show and intermission!
Who would think a play that takes place in June could put me so much in the Christmas spirit? But what is Christmas, really, if not family and celebrating and maybe a little arguing…and, of course, lots and lots of food! Over the River and Through the Woods has all these in spades! So get your tickets and come on over for dinner! You look hungry!
Over the River and Through the Woods by Joe DiPietro (Director: Tony Caselli; Nunzio Cristano: Arthur J. Beer; Emma Cristano: Mary Bremer Beer; Caitlyn O’Hara: Carolyn Conover; Frank Gianelli: David Daoust; Nick Cristano: Andrew Faber; Aida Gianelli: Gloria Vivalda) plays at The Williamston Theater through December 29. Tickets range from $10-$25. For more information, visit http://www.williamstontheatre.com/wp/.