by Terrance Mc Arthur
Some families say “I love you.” Some families don’t. Some say it, but without words. In Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods, now playing at the Reedley Opera House, love is expressed in food. You feed the ones you love. Lasagna or a sandwich, it’s all love.
Nick (Joseph Ham) is an up-and-coming marketing executive in Manhattan, but he spends every Sunday with his two sets of Italian-American grandparents in Hoboken, New Jersey. It all takes place in the home of Frank (Larry Ham) and Aida (Nancy Jo Baker), two doors down from Nunzio (Chris Giese) and Emma (Stephanie Barnett). When a promotion for Nick threatens to jeopardize their cozy dinners with their grandson, the seniors decide to find a way (a girl named Caitlin played by Bethany Houghton) to keep him in commuting distance.
Joseph Ham is still thin and gangly, but he’s maturing nicely. He manages to maintain a Woody Allen wistfulness in Nick’s monologues and narrations. Nick loves his family ties, but they sometimes choke him. He is at turns awkwardly romantic, exasperated, and appealing.
Larry Ham has only been onstage a few times, but he is gaining confidence. As a mirror to his grandson’s desires to break away from family, Frank is an example of the immigrant experience and the search for a new life in a new world.
Nancy Jo Baker brings a quiet dignity that emphasizes the comedy of the woman who has to feed everyone she meets. This is a character that seems silly at first, but grows in depth and strength as the play progresses.
Chris Geise as Nunzio is craggy and sharp, more acerbic than Frank, but with good reason. Ring of Fire and the world of Johnny Cash to suburban New Jersey is quite a stretch, but he manages the feat smoothly.
Stephanie Barnett is cuddly and bubbly as Emma, filled with ideas. Oddly reminiscent of the English comic actress Joan Sims (Madge in As Time Goes By, the Carry On films), she exudes cheerfulness, even when Emma is hiding sorrow and secrets.
Bethany Houghton ought to be too young to play a nurse with a sense of humor and little tolerance for a man who does not show respect for his elders. However, she comes across as capable and forthright, with a touch of flirtation.
Ken Stocks directs with a naturalistic style, even when characters break from the scene and talk to the audience. The ensemble has a smooth power that reaches its height in a wild game of Trivial Pursuit that bounces back and forth faster than the Serena Williams ping-pong ad. The set takes advantage of the tiny Opera House stage to provide an intimate interior set with enough room for actors and furniture.
Over the River and Through the Woods plays through May 7 at the Reedley Opera House, 1720 10th Street in Reedley, presented by the River City Theatre Co. For ticket information, call 559-638-6500 or 866-977-6500, or go to www.reedleyrivercitytheatre.org.
Treat yourself to the reasons family is important…and the reasons family can drive you crazy.
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