You’re stuck with what you get, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Well, that’s not exactly true.
In “Over the River and Through the Woods” on the main stage at Florida Repertory Theatre, Nick’s parents moved from New Jersey to Florida to get away from their parents’ constant “interference, judgment and criticism.” (Grandfather Frank’s hilarious but accurate summation of Florida: “a bunch of old people who love humidity.”) And Nick’s sister moved clear across the country to San Diego.
Or, you can appreciate them and make the most of the time you have together.
Nick (Jason Parrish) faithfully visits both sets of Italian grandparents every week for Sunday dinner in Hoboken, N.J. (the birthplace of Frank Sinatra).
On this one particular Sunday, he has an announcement to make: He’s been offered a promotion.
But accepting it means he’ll have to move to Seattle.
His grandparents are appalled. They plot to keep him to keep him in the area, if not the Garden Stateitself.
The two couples are loud and boisterous, set in their ways. (A guest kindly calls them “passionate.”) To them, family is everything; they don’t want to see their grandson move.
Grandma Aida (Viki Boyle) scurries about, always offering everyone a meal or a sandwich. Her two favorite phrases seem to be: “Is anyone hungry?” or “Let’s eat!” Kind-hearted and maternal, she seems to be the heart of the family. She’s married to taciturn Grandpa Frank (John LaGioia), who rules from his easy chair.
Nick’s paternal grandparents are louder and crazier: Grandpa Nunzio (Jon Freda) and wise-cracking Grandma Emma (Andrea Gallo), who reminded me of an older Andrea Martin. She buys so many mass cards it’s as if she’s single-handedly financing the Roman Catholic church. Mr. Freda and Ms. Gallo play off of each other very well, and you believe they’ve been married for decades.
Director Robert Cacioppo has made sure the actors portray these characters as people, not as caricatures. We laugh at them, yes, but we also believe that they have lives that continue on when we’re not watching. They possess heart and depth. And as irritating as they can be, we fall in love with them all.
While playwright Joe DiPietro has given us an Italian family, they surpass ethnicity and are universal, doing what all grandparents do: slipping us money, plying us with food, telling us to ring twice when we get home so they’ll know we’ve arrived safely. Their quirks and foibles are ones we readily recognize. (For example, keeping the house as hot as the tropics, and refusing to turn on the air conditioning until after the Fourth of July.)
Mr. Parrish turns on his boyish charm and is at his comedic heights here, playing Nick with a light but sure hand. We laugh at Nick, but we also care about him.
Mr. Parrish has played in a variety of shows at Florida Rep, performing farce and slapstick and morphing into different characters within a second. He’s ruled Christmastime year after year with the one-man show “The Santaland Diaries.” He just keeps getting better, growing and deepening as an actor.
This is a great ensemble, with strong acting all around. Mr. Parrish has some moving moments with each grandfather, as well as some tender scenes with Caitlin (Florida Rep acting intern Sarah Katherine Zanotti), who visits the house. She’s the epitome of gentleness and tact, with a soft, lilting Irish accent.
One of the best-written (and best-acted) scenes is when Nick and his grandparents all play a game of Trivial Pursuit. The convoluted way some of the participants arrive at an answer is mind-boggling but also comedic gold.
Ms. Boyle, a Florida Rep favorite, seems a little underutilized, but that’s the way her role is written. She also seems a little lost in the large white wig she wears. She plays nurturing grandma to Ms. Gallo’s smart-mouthed but well-meaning one.
Set designer Bert Scott’s Hoboken house is filled with family photos on the staircase and decorative plates on the dining room wall.
Some of the playwright’s jokes about VCRs and phone message machines seem a little stale, but they can be overlooked in this play that’s just brimming with love and goodwill.
The audience at the Arcade Theatre, many of them most likely grandparents themselves, took this journey with these characters as the elders struggled to determine if they could love their grandson enough to let him go and make his own life.
You can’t choose the family you’re born into.
But you can hold them close and love them as best you can and make every moment count while you’re all still alive.
And share as many laughs as possible.