Family. They'll always be there for you, and odds are they'll drive you crazy, too. That seems to be the general idea of Joe DiPietro's dramatic comedy, Over The River and Through the Woods, currently playing Austin's City Theatre. While there are countless plays like this, City Theatre's production of Over the River employs an effective mix of humor and heart that is tough to beat.
DiPetro's script centers on young Nick (the brilliant Matthew C. Burnett), a New Jersey Italian who enjoys a communal dinner with both sets of grandparents every Sunday night. When Nick informs the grandparents that he's been offered a job promotion that will force him to relocate to Seattle, the four of them do everything in their power to make him stay. Hijinks ensue in the sidesplitting, sitcom-esque first act (which includes the best "awkward dinner scene" I've ever seen), and things take a more somber tone in the second act. Despite the change in tone between the two acts, DiPetro's work is honest, authentic, and completely engaging. His words will make you laugh and cry.
Director Stacey Glazer works wonders with DiPetro's play. It's not too sentimental, and it's not too cynical either. In Glazer's hands, the play falls stably and comfortably in the middle. Andy Berkovsky's set design delightfully adds to the sentimental/tongue-and-cheek tone. The grandparent's living room is complete with family photos and a candy dish that probably hasn't been changed out in decades. It's so authentic to grandparent décor, all that's missing is plastic covers on the furniture. Berkovsky's lighting design, particularly during the numerous soliloquies and asides to the audience, is extraordinary as well.
As Nick, Matthew C. Burnett easily carries the show. He's completely believable and likeable, despite his occasionAl Anger and frustration with his loveable though meddling grandparents. While the character of Nick has his faults, Burnett is flawless. But ultimately, Burnett plays the straightman to the hilarious quartet of grandparents. As the constantly cooking Grandma Aida, Kim Rubin is downright adorable. As her husband, Frank, Steve Wright has a dry, sarcastic wit. Liz Roark is fantastic as Atlantic City-loving, prayer-card dolling Grandma Emma, and Robert Deike is stellar as the loud, loveable Grandpa Nunzio. Rounding out the cast is the fantastic Megan Ortiz as Caitlin, the no-nonsense Jersey girl and Nick's love interest.
At the end of Over the River and Through the Woods, I had two thoughts. As I dabbed tears out of my eyes, I thought of how much I miss all four of my grandparents, and then as I let out a laugh, I thought of how ridiculous their antics could be. The phenomenal cast and crew not only entertained, but they made me and the entire audience laugh, cry, and reflect. That's truly the highest praise I can give this production.
To the entire cast and crew, I'm sure all of your grandparents are proud of you, as they should be.
Run time: Approximately 2 hours, including one 10 minute intermission.
OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS plays The City Theatre at 3823 Airport Blvd now thru Dec 23. Performances are Thursday – Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5:30pm Tickets are $15 general admission, $25 for reserved seats, $12 for students, and $10 for all seats on Thursdays. For tickets and information, visit http://www.citytheatreaustin.org.