by Terrance Mc Arthur
We have families. We love them…and they drive us crazy. Isn’t that wonderful? Over the River and Through the Woods, a play by Joe DiPietro, is now onstage at the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre. It’s about families. Isn’t that wonderful?
Nick (Alex Vaux) is an Italian-American 20-something in the 1980s, and he leaves New York City every Sunday to have dinner with his two sets of grandparents in Hoboken, New Jersey. When he has a chance for a job in another time zone, the couples do everything in their power to keep him local…by any means necessary.
It’s a play that could have been the love child of Neil Simon and Tennessee Williams. Players break the wall of illusion and tell about their past and their fears. Traditional complications seem fresh and real, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny, but it has soul-searching moments, and things don’t always go as the audience plans—lucky for us, because it makes for a fascinating night of theatre.
Dan Pessano directs with a rich sparseness—a lot of things happen, but only the things that are necessary. To deal with all the comedy and emotion would be a Herculean task if it were not for four magical weapons Pessano has at hand—Mary Piona, Gordon Moore, Joyce Anabo, and Noel Adams, cast as the grandparents of the play. They are deft, assured, watchable, and clockwork-precise. There is a five-handed board game sequence that takes simple questions and answers and turns them into a mind-spinning confusion of blisteringly-fast dialogue that makes Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine sound like a nursery rhyme. Face it. Experience counts.
Piona is a pint-sized powerhouse, the grandma that thinks all problems can be solved with food. From last year’s mystically brooding Bless Me, Ultima to this farcical memory play is quite a leap, but she sticks the landing without a bobble. Her character is the only one who can confront the grandson’s selfishness.
Moore is usually a slapstick machine, but his portrayal of a carpenter sent to America when he was only 14 is a blue-collar masterpiece, and he keeps his fabled eyebrows in check at all times.
Anabo gives a softer performance, a loving and protective keeper of secrets. Adams comes across as jovial and practical. His logic might be a bit convoluted, but he manages to get where he’s trying to go.Vaux comes across as a combination of Matthew Broderick, Mark-Linn Baker and Woody Allen. He acts as the center point of the wildly spinning carousel of the families. Erica Riggs, who directed Woodward Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, shows integrity in a thankless role as the temptation offered to Nick to get him to stay.
Over the River and Through the Woods plays through August 17 at the Second Space, 928 E. Olive Avenue. For tickets, call 559-266-0660 or 800-371-4747. This play is wondrous. Take your parents, so you can remember. Take your teen-age children, so they will know what to expect.
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