Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods is a by–the–numbers kind of play: the script follows a number of predictable beats, tells swaths of familiar jokes, and arguably keeps going past the point the story should end. Nonetheless, in the hands of director Tamara Kamermans and her more than capable cast, Dundas Little Theatre’s presentation of the show is a charming, funny, and heartwarming, if somewhat predictable piece of entertainment.
Nick has been raised by both sets of his Italian grandparents and, while pursuing a marketing career in New York, still crosses the Hudson every Sunday for family dinner. One Sunday, he comes bearing news of an offered promotion — and an accompanying move to Seattle, far from his grandparents. The quartet then goes about trying to determine how best to keep Nick from leaving — whether he wants to stay or not.
Family is the core of the show, and fortunately, Kamermans’ assembled ensemble feels like a family, comfortable with each other, each with their own preferred seat in Peter Lloyd’s lovingly–decorated set. Their energy together is infectious, their banter natural, and their interactions with each other and with Nick will rekindle in their audiences fond memories of actual family dinners with grandparents — in particular, a scene involving a game of Trivial Pursuit, which is comedy gold. Admittedly, much of the humour in their genuinely clever dialogue is reliant on familiar tropes and jokes — the Italian grandma who’s always offering food, the stubborn grandfather who won’t relinquish his driver’s license, any number of jokes based purely in the fact these people are old — but the cast delivers them with such gusto, you can’t help but laugh along.
That said, the jokes can sometimes run a little too long, a flaw partially reflective of an overall pacing concern. Too frequently, actors break away into a separately light (invariably, to the same particular corner of the stage every time) to deliver a monologue to the audience — not necessarily a problem, except that it too often interrupts the story for exposition or narration, telling instead of showing — and these interruptions are especially awkward when the actors in question aren’t alone onstage to deliver them, the shift in Jonathan Bello’s lighting barely enough to isolate them. Not to say they aren’t well-performed, nor that Kamermans hasn’t done her best to keep things flowing organically when they crop up, but it means that the cast’s strong energy begins to drop — a drop made more noticeable as the story takes a more serious turn in Act Two.
Again, the cast remains fantastic regardless, with all four grandparents sharing phenomenal chemistry. Ruth Flyn as Aida is near–constantly chipper, maintaining a bouncy, flighty physicality from start to finish, yet manages to ground herself long enough for her more serious moments to land effectively. As Frank, Peter Lloyd nails both the delivery of numerous sardonically dry barbs, and the heart–wrenching stillness to captivate attention during a tale of Frank’s youth; Rose Pye’s Emma is big and boisterous, yet consistently sweet and caring; and in a scene–stealing turn as Nunzio, Erik Peters is equal parts raucously hilarious and quietly heartbreaking.
As Nick, Alex Tessier definitely shows potential: his comic timing and reactions to his co–stars are excellent, and you can tell from his facial expressions and body language that he’s got all of Nick’s emotional states down pat, from frustration to affection, and all the conflict in–between. A little more confidence in his line delivery may be beneficial, as little is conveyed beyond the words themselves; and though his growing frustration during one key scene is palpable, it plateaus far too early, leaving him nowhere else to go performance–wise.
Meanwhile, poor Caitlin Wieringa is wasted as a nurse roped in by Emma as a prospective fiancée for Nick. Sadly, as DiPetro’s written the character, she isn’t really a character in her own right, so much as she is a plot device to advance the story, meaning Wieringa only has so much to work with. Still, work she does — she’s warm and pleasant, and though her chemistry with Tessier was limited opening night, it showed room for growth.
Nevertheless, whatever hurdles the script has put in the path of its director and cast, Over the River and Through the Woods earns a recommendation based on a strong familial core that manages to largely bypass those hurdles to deliver a worthwhile evening at the theatre. V
Over the River and
Through the Woods
Written by: Joe DiPietro
Directed by: Tamara Kamermans
Playing at: Dundas Little Theatre
(Garstin Centre for the Arts,
27 Market Street, Dundas)
Showdates: January 31, February 1, 6, 7, 8 @ 8pm; February 2, 9 @ 2pm
Box Office: 905-627-5266