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Joe DiPietro’s “Over the River and Through the Woods” Is a Hilarious Comedy About an Italian-American Family

The Cary Players will present a community-theater production of Over the River and Through the Woods, a 1998 Off-Broadway hit comedy written by Tony Award®-winning Teaneck, NJ-born playwright and lyricist Joe DiPietro (Memphis), on Oct. 1-3 and 7-10 in the Page-Walker Arts & History Center in Cary, NC. BackStage saluted Over the River and Through the Woods as “A hilarious family comedy that is even funnier than [DiPietro’s] long-running musical revue I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”

“I first read the script for Over the River and Through the Woods in 2003, when I was serving on the board of directors for Kanawha Players in Charleston, WV,” recalls Cary Players guest director Tina Vance. “We produced the show in February 2004, I was the assistant director, but ended up running many of the rehearsals when our director broke her ankle.”

Vance adds, “Because my own family has always included close relationships with extended members, I can identify with that dynamic; and I love the absurdity of their multi-generational interactions. I also enjoy working with a small cast; it allows the whole creative process to be more intimate and interactive.”

When the curtain rises on Over the River and Through the Woods, director Tina Vance says, “Nick Cristano (Jason Peck) lives close to his grandparents, all four of them; and every Sunday for most of his life, Nick has had dinner with his grandparents at their home in Hoboken, NJ. When Nick arrives one Thursday with an important announcement — he’s been offered a promotion that would also mean moving to Seattle — he threatens this happy arrangement.

“Desperate to keep their only grandson close to them, the grandparents — Frank and Aida Gianelli (Harvey Sage and Kate Tonner) and Nunzio and Emma Cristano (Bill Spenser and Annah Michaux) — hatch a plot in hopes of enticing Nick to stay.

“Enter Caitlin O’Hare (Jess Barbour), the unmarried niece of Emma Cristano’s canasta partner. Could a blind date do the trick? Will love conquer all? Don’t miss the merry mayhem. Come see for yourself.”

In addition to director Tina Vance, the Cary Players creative team for Over the River and Through the Woods includes producer Debra Zumbach Grannan; set designer Glenn Vance; sound designer Mark Hanna; and costumer, properties manager, and stage manager Deanna Wilson.

Director Tina Vance says, “We’ll spend our time together in Frank and Aida Gianelli’s home in Hoboken, NJ, specifically the living room and dining room. At times during the story,” Vance says, “we get a glimpse inside the thoughts of each character. These inner monologues will be set apart with special lighting. Beyond those scenes, there will be a blackout at the end of Act One, just prior to a 15-minute intermission.”

She adds, “This is a memory play; Nick Cristano is recalling events that happened a few years ago. Costume choices are age- and character-driven. [The include] Just everyday clothes — oh yes, I almost forgot — and grandpa’s pjs! …

“We’re very pleased to be staging this production in the Page-Walker Arts & History Center,” says Tina Vance. “It’s such an inviting space. That being said, it does present a few challenges for the creative team — namely lighting changes.

“For the cast,” Vance says, “I think they would overwhelmingly agree that these folks do a lot of eating, so they’re almost constantly dealing with dishes and food.”

Tina Vance adds, “It might be interesting to note a bit about the playwright. In addition to Over the River and Through the Woods, Joe DiPietro wrote the book and lyrics to the musical-comedy hit I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change (composer: Jimmy Roberts), the longest-running musical revue in Off-Broadway history, with productions staged in over 150 cities around the world.”

She says, “Joe [DiPietro] is also the author of the plays The Kiss at City Hall, The Virgin Weeps, and the comic thriller The Art of Murder. Most recently, Joe’s work has included All Shook Up, an original musical comedy featuring the songs of Elvis Presley, and the 2010 Tony Award®-winning musical Memphis.”

The Cary Players present OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS at 8 p.m. Oct. 1 and 2, 3 p.m. Oct. 3, 8 p.m. Oct. 7-9, and 3 p.m. Oct. 10 in the Page-Walker Arts & History Center, 119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, North Carolina 27513.

TICKETS: $12 in advance and $15 at the door.

BOX OFFICE: 800/745-3000, 919/834-4000, or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115428/804153.

SHOW: http://caryplayers.org/river.html.

PRESENTER: http://www.caryplayers.org/.

VENUE/PARKING/DIRECTIONS: http://www.townofcary.org/.

OTHER LINKS:

The Play: http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=2863 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.) and http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&id=311 (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

The Playwright: http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=people&first=Joe&last=DiPietro&middle= (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=383115 (Internet Broadway Database).

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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