Monday, January 14, 2002

Over the River and Through the Woods (Actors' Summit)

Audience pleasing 'OVER THE RIVER' at Actors' Summit

Every once in a while a strange phenomena happens on a stage. A play is selected which is not a great script and the production values miss the mark. In spite of this, the final result is very positive and results in an audience pleasing production. That is the case with 'OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS' at Actors’ Summit.

The story centers on Nick Cristano, a third-generation Italian American who finds himself emotionally trapped in New Jersey with his two sets of grandparents who feel abandoned when their children move to Florida and their granddaughter moves to San Diego. The elder’s last grasp on familia is to smother Nick with love and food. The problems start when Nick is offered a promotion which entails moving to Seattle and leaving his grandparents behind.

The script has some wonderful lines that set the theme and tone of the happenings: “I need to make my life something of my own doing.” “How much do you owe those who have done so much for you?” “You can’t keep the people around you forever.”

Director Neil Thackaberry has assembled a group of Cleveland area pros to portray the grandparents. These are people who are comfortable with the stage. Unfortunately, because of their Anglo physical appearance, it’s hard to accept the duet as the Italians they are supposed to be portraying. Accents, both Italian and New Jersey, also come and go.

Glen Colerider as Frank, one of the grandfathers is properly stolid. Jean Colerider is warm and meaningful as Frank’s wife. Lenne Snively is wonderful as the other grandmother. Robert Snook, in spite of some line problems, is effective as the near-death grandfather. His speech near the end when he emotionally lets go of Nick is nothing short of superb. Peter Voinovich, as Nick, never seems comfortable with his role. Though one would like to pinch his chunky cheeks for being such a good grandson, he acts rather than reacts facial expressions and line interpretations, thus losing some of the character’s impact.

The production is blessed with a wonderful Robert Stegmiller two level set. It is period perfect in every detail, down to the table top doilies. Before the opening curtain you know who lives there, what the family is like (the large dining room table dominates the space), and the loving qualities that surround the inhabitants.

Joe DiPietro’s play is very funny, and the writer knows no restraint when it comes to sentimentality. He weaves in every tear-jerking device every conceived...old age, hidden illness, death, abandonment, immigrant displacement, family disintegration, loneliness, and emotional manipulation. Its ending is a three-hanky affair. The results? The audience is charmed.

Capsule judgement: All in all, in spite of a flawed script and performance issues, audiences will laugh, cry and love 'OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS' at Actors’ Summit. Go, see, and mange emotionally and literally with the familia.