There was a parade going on in a city nearby, attracting throngs of thousands. Black Friday specials lured shoppers everywhere. Christmas lights and lawn decorations became priority projects for many neighborhoods on this Thanksgiving weekend.
For some of us, though, the opening day of a play struck home. Home is the theme for Williamston Theatre’s December production: Over the River and Through the Woods by Joe DiPietro.
While bright lights were taking over that other nearby city, we were under the influence of stage lights in Williamston (MI) and the amazing performances of Arthur J. and Mary Bremer
Beer (grandparents Nunzio and Emma Cristano), David Daoust and Gloria Vivalda (grandparents Frank and Aida Gianelli), Carolyn Conover (neighbor Caitlin O’Hara) and Andrew Faber
as the grandson, Nick Cristano.
The play is about “what happens when Nick’s grandparents go into full crisis mode to keep him from moving across the country.” The story focuses on the grandparents and their relationship with their grandson, since his parents have retired to Fort Lauderdale and his sister has relocated to California. A highlight is their zealous match-making attempt with Caitlin O’Hara.
In their schemes to keep Nick in New Jersey, the grandparents display the electric humor, passions and traditions of a close-knit Italian family. It was fun invading the Gianelli home in Hoboken New Jersey. It was fun spending time there, with this family – while being there with my family…my husband, my sister and my son and girlfriend.
“Time with our families,” writes Artistic Director Tony Caselli, “That’s what this play is all about. How we spend it, how we appreciate it, how it changes…and how it changes us.”
Caselli describes in the program guide, the wonder and beautiful memories of growing up Italian: “the many many hours spent at my grandma’s house with my Italian grandmother” and “holidays with her, our aunts, and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, cousins, parents, siblings… and more amazing food than we could ever eat in one sitting.”
You get the idea; and even though I’m not Italian (no, I’m from English and German stock), I came out of the theatre feeling as though I’d like to be. I’d like to be comfortable with having that kind of passion and humor and gusto about life that Italians naturally seem to radiate.
Observing the beautiful sense of family going generations deep, I found the script fascinating with the parents taken out of the equation. And not being a grandparent myself, I could only relate from the perspective of my family, which was similar in a way, in that both sets of grandparents had known each other almost all their lives.
Still, I loved the amazing interactions between the sets of grandparents, as well as their exuberant affection for their grandson. I’d always considered myself fortunate to have had two sets of grandparents who knew each other and who were intertwined within our small-town community.
Watching the play I truly felt the heart-connections being portrayed, in both the poignancy of the situatio and the hilarity of the dialog. Hilarious, it is — sending the audience reeling with familial banter, arguments, debates, and genuine compassion.
What is family, anyway? What drives us to go over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house? What is home? What makes the love of family and home so powerful?
Even the post office is getting into the theme this year. Saying they’ve improved the Priority Mail Flat Rate® delivery service so….Over the river and through the woods, to everyone’s house we go.
Well, the well-loved song from long ago – from the original poem Over the River and Through the Wood – by Mary Marie Child, woos us with the nostalgia of memories.
Over the river, and through the wood— now Grandmother’s cap I spy! Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done? Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!
That verse sends me time-traveling to my childhood days, singing that song. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Pumpkin Pie. Our happiest memories of family gatherings usually revolve around food: preparing food, eating food, enjoying food, talking about food.
Food stars in this play; and the effort to incorporate it with the Sunday dinner scenes adds to the pleasure and sensation of being right there at the table with the diners. From our vantage, the bright red dinnerware attracted my attention; I’ll have to make a point of finding out about those fantastic dishes, so lovingly set out for each meal.
Perhaps the dishes symbolize the unity of this family, serving as a touchstone for the core value of enduring love. We often revere the family China, passing it along from grandparents on down to grandchildren. It’s something I hadn’t thought about too much.
Reflecting now, I’ll admit feeling warmth of spirit enveloping me when I re-discovered one of my grandmother’s beautiful serving dishes in the cupboard that weekend.
Over the River and Through the Woods transcends the friction that develops in our families at times, and embraces the love. I found myself agreeing with comments from a review quoted from the Union Democrat, appearing alongside the playwright’s column about his work on the 20 Years Stage Theatre Company site:
What a script. It was written by Joe DiPietro, who wrote ‘I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change’ and this new play offers the same bounty of laughs. But it’s deeper. Without you even knowing it, until a day later, it’s got you thinking about society and family and the choices we make.
Yes, I’ve done a lot of thinking about those things since coming home from that play. I loved the dialog — so much, that I’ve decided that maybe I should adopt a more Italian kind of presence with my family. I’ve begun teasing them that I might try it out on them: being a little bit more Italian in expressing myself, that is.
Since they saw Over the River and Through the Woods with me, it should be fun. They’ll relate. In the meantime, when you go to the play, take some family with you.
Links for Over the River and Through the Woods:
20 Years Stage Theatre Company: Joe DiPietro writes about his play
Over the River and Through the Wood: Lyrics of original poem by Lydia Marie Child
Williamston Theatre Artistic Director Tony Caselli’s WordPress Blog: ‘Over the River and Through the Woods’