J. A. Di Bello’s Review of Over the River and Through the Woods

August 23, 2019

Shadowland Stages

Ellenville

L’ora di Mangiare

     Brendan Burke, Artistic Director of Shadowland Stages has a hot one on his hands. He has prudently assembled an assortment of thespians to present Joe DiPietro’s classic play Over the River and Through the Woods (OTR) at Shadowland Stages. A near capacity audience in Ellenville’s classic Canal Street theatre was duly rewarded with a hilarious evening, ranging from chuckles to down-right belly laughs. Interesting too, at evening’s end as people were leaving theatre, one was overheard to say, “I think I know these people.”

DiPietro’s comedy/drama is an ethnocentric presentation of an urban family, in this case an Italian-American family living in Hoboken NJ. This family is centered around an active, gregarious set of grandparents who reside just doors apart in this notorious, waterfront city. The patriarchs of this sincerely lovable famiglia are not just-off-the-boat kinda guys, but individuals who retain a proud heritage and carry their ethnicity stubbornly. Ray Faiola stands out and is more than just a credible Grandpa Frank on the stage. His tale of immigration to this country is the fiber that binds his family’s character: “Family, Faith and Food.”

In the dramatic sense, it is that pride, with its implications, innuendos and code expectations that is the source of this drama’s comedy as well as its drama. Especially, since into this caldron is thrown Nick, so honestly portrayed by John Caliendo, the privileged grandson who has been dutifully arriving at Grandma’s house for Sunday dinner for 29 years. Since he has been indoctrinated with his family’s ethics and code of living, it is with great foreboding he must inform the assembled family he is moving away. Away from family!

In a vivid opening scene John Caliendo, under spot, efficiently relates his contentious relationship with grandparents to a receptive audience that suddenly discovers itself immersed in the middle a loud, flamboyant, demonstrative Italian family in Hoboken.

The elusive balance of comedic elements and the existential situations form a dueling theatrical duet that sweeps this production to an uproarious success. Adding spice to this combination are the two gran’mas. One is immediately drawn to the charm and skills of Peggy Cosgrave, a veteran of stage and screen, as she portrays the culinary cutie, Aida, who at the end of the day you might be tempted to take home for a weekend dinner party. As Lidia Bastianich is apt to say,“L’ora di mangiare. Tutt‘a tavola.”

There’s also her counterpart, gran’ma Emma, with an over-the-top performance as the spouse of Gran’pa Nunzio.  He is superbly portrayed by a believable Jon Freda. Emma's primary purpose is to establish the groundwork for Nick’s acquisition of a woman and his own family. She even buys mass cards for this dubious purpose. At the end of the day, one might find solace in the fact that the reliable Nunzio will take her home.

And speaking of Emma, one must say, she certainly gave it her all, with attempts to secure Nick at least a living prospect. A young, attractive Irish girl, Kate McMorran, as Caitlan, was briefly, a candidate, but she became part of Nick’s solution. Letting him know that he is not the center of the universe!

The set design by a diligent Josh Christensen is perfect; Not brand new and not shabby, family pictures on the wall, a crucifix. This is Hoboken not Bensonhurst. The front porch (UC) is very clever, providing the ideal location to spot a monologue. The preshow music is spot on establishing a suggestive and supporting background for the action that’s about to happen.  

Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods is booked for only a three week engagement. It is suggested from this writer to get in line. This is not a show to be missed. And if you have family, especially one like this. All the more reason. You know how those people are.

Tickets and additional information are available from the box office at:

845-210-4848 or the web site: https://shadowlandstages.org/mainstage-season/

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