NEWS-PRESS RAVES: “IT’S ALL ABOUT FAMILY IN FLORIDA REP COMEDY”November 14, 2016
Charles Runnells, The News-Press 8:34 a.m. EDT November 2, 2016
After watching Florida Rep’s new comedy, I wanted to hop on a plane and go give my Grandma a big hug. And I bet you’ll feel the same way, too, if you’re lucky enough to have living grandparents.
If “Over the River and Through the Woods” is about anything, it’s about Family with a capital “F.” That family could be Italian-American — like the one in the play — or it could be Cuban or French or a little bit of everything.
Whatever your background, though, it’s easy to appreciate the grandparents’ constant rallying cry in “Over the River”: “Tengo familia!” — which translates to something like “hold onto your family.”
Friends may come and go, but family is forever.
Florida Rep’s onstage family comes to vivid life thanks largely to director Bob Cacioppo. Joe DiPietro’s comedy is full of heartwarming sentiment and big emotions, and those could have easily veered into cheeseball territory in the wrong hands. That doesn’t happen here.
Instead, Cacioppo and company make sure everything feels honest and real. This family might take its members for granted sometimes, but there’s no doubting their feelings for each other.
The story involves 29-year-old Nick Cristano (Jason Parrish), who drops a bombshell during his weekly Sunday dinner with both sets of grandparents: He’s moving all the way across the country to Seattle for a dream job.
His grandparents are shocked, perplexed and a little confused.
Nick’s quirky, heartbroken grandparents won’t go down without a fight, though. Soon they’ve invited a pretty young woman to Sunday dinner — who one grandparent describes as “the unmarried niece of my canasta partner.”
They’re hoping the two fall in love and that Nick decides to stay in Hoboken, New Jersey, after all. And when sparks start flying between Nick and the lovely, Irish-lilted Caitlin O’Hare (a luminous Sarah Catherine Zanotti), that just might happen.
The rest of Florida Rep’s ace cast includes John Freda and Andrea Gallo as Nick’s very loud (sorry, make that “passionate”) grandparents Nunzio and Emma Cristano, and Viki Boyle as the sweet and needy grandma Aida Gianelli, who rarely lets a moment pass before asking “Who’s hungry?” — and God forbid if you turn down her meal.
At the center of it all is Parrish, who pulls you in and makes you like the high-strung Nick — even while he’s being kind of a jerk as his grandparents start getting under his skin. It’s fun to watch Nick become unraveled as the night progresses — especially his hilarious tantrum at the end of Act 1 — but then he practically radiates love in some of his warmer scenes with his grandparents.
And did I mention the play is very funny, too? It is. DiPietro — best known for his work on “All Shook Up” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” — spends a lot of time mining the comedic differences between grandparents and grandchildren and how they see the world. Take, for example, the revelation that Nick recently ate Chinese food. “Chinese food?” one grandparent exclaims. “That’s like eating CANCER.”
But then there are some inspired set pieces, too, such as the Trivia Pursuit game that takes some ridiculously meandering turns and the coffee-stirring scene that gets laughs without a single word.
This isn’t Florida Rep’s first crack at “Over the River and Through the Woods,” by the way. They first staged the play 16 years ago, and it’s easy to see why they brought it back for an encore.
This comedy is funny, beautiful and heartwarming in the best possible way. And it’s well worth the 16-year wait.
So what are you waiting for? Go hug your nearest grandparent right now.