Playwright Joe DiPietro, obviously of Italian extraction, spoons
out heaping servings of ethnic flavor in this warm and winsome
comedy. While there are no card-carrying Italians present in the
Huntington Beach cast (the leading man is definitely Irish), the
familial bonds are the important element here.
Director Gigi Fusco Meese, the only true Italian on board, has
fashioned a pleasantly effective production that leans heavily on the
importance of the family. However, when four of the six actors are of
the age to play grandparents, your show isn't going to move like a
Marx Brothers comedy.
Yes, "Over the River" is a little deliberate in its pacing, with
more than a few pregnant pauses, but its actors are such engaging
individuals that audiences will tend to overlook the downshift in
tempo. These oldsters still can set up a funny scene and garner
significant laughs in the process.
In the center of this familial storm is Shaun Michael McNamara as
the young man on the way up -- or at least on the way west. McNamara
skillfully balances his character's devotion to his grandparents and
his genuine need to further his ambitions in a winning and articulate
McNamara's maternal grandparents (the husband and wife team of
Manny and Ruth Siegall) and those on the paternal side (Samuel Piper
and Gwen Wooldridge) are a quartet of merry conspirators, constant in
their quest to keep their grandson in Hoboken and away from Seattle.
Ruth Siegall is the most engaging of the quartet as the grandma
whose domain is the kitchen, and who mixes familial love with heaping
portions of pasta ("a little lasagna for the plane"). Manny Siegall
is all too recognizable as an old man whose driving days are over,
whether or not he chooses to admit it.
Piper is quite good as an old man with a gift of gab -- except
when it comes to his own terminal condition, which might keep his
grandson in New Jersey. Wooldridge is the sweet, saucy member of the
senior quartet, with an ever-present twinkle in her eye.
As a last resort, the old folks bring in a ringer, a cute young,
unattached friend (Jennifer Kudelka), to possibly win their
grandson's heart and keep him grounded. Kudelka proves a spirited
young lady in her two brief scenes and adds some needed spice to the
Set designer James W. Gruessing Jr. and set dresser Andrew Otero
(who also designed the costumes) have created a comfortable, homey
atmosphere with their living room interior, adding touches to suggest
it's been around for a while. Lighting is nicely accomplished by
Kiana St. Laurent.
If ever a play was written for the enjoyment of senior citizens,
this is it. Whether by accident or design, last Saturday's matinee
was filled with them. Youth must be served, and most often is, but
"Over the River and Through the Woods" is a banquet for the Social
* TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.