The Cary Players’ production of Over the River and Through the Woods, Joe DiPietro’s charmingly written tale about an Italian family, opens with twenty-something Nick Cristano (Jason Peck) lamenting about how hot it is inside his grandparents’ house. This overly warm abode, designed for Cary Players by Glenn Vance, serves as the set for the play; and it features just the right touches to make it believable, including a bright floral sofa and lace doilies on the chairs.
The audience is soon introduced to the inhabitants of the house — Nick’s grandmother Aida (Kate Tonner) and his grandfather Frank (Harvey Sage). Frequent visitors to Frank and Aida’s home are Nick’s other grandparents, Nunzio (Bill Spencer) and Emma (Annah Michaux). On this particular night, the family has assembled for their weekly dinner, only to find out that Nick has an important announcement to make.
Harvey Sage nails the role of hardworking immigrant Frank, with his gentle-but-tough demeanor and sometimes faltering but fairly solid Italian accent. Kate Tonner’s spunky Aida feeds her guests nonstop, and is the type of grandmother anybody would kill for — except Nick, who spends much of the play complaining about and getting annoyed with his family.
Jason Peck does a solid job of portraying Nick as a lovable jerk, and effectively smirks his way through most of the performance. Bill Spencer’s Nunzio falls into the background for much of the show, and is thoroughly forgettable, whereas Annah Michaux’s Emma loses all of her spunk thanks to wooden acting and a thick Southern accent.
Despite the acting flaws, the strong writing shines through; and audience members still care about these characters and eagerly await Nick’s big announcement. It turns out that he’s thinking of taking a job in Seattle and moving away from his grandparents, just as his own parents did some years ago. His grandparents spring a blind date with local nurse Caitlin (Jess Barbour) on Nick in the hopes that he’ll fall in love and stick around. Unfortunately, Jess Barbour’s Caitlin is one-dimensional and fails to really intrigue or charm the viewer.
A big part of the problem here is that the play is staged by guest director Tina Vance as strictly comedy. Proper attention is not paid to key scenes that should give the story a lot of heart, such as Nunzio’s musings about families and how they grow apart. Also, the garishly bright lights are never dimmed during the performance, although a barely visible spotlight is haphazardly used during monologues. These poor lighting choices make it hard for the viewer to get lost in the story.
Several actors enter and exit through the outside door as well; but that door got stuck several times last Saturday night, and the actors didn’t cover it well. The set is also extremely wide, making it impossible for anyone to have a good view of the stage at all times. Distractions such as these prevent any real theater magic from happening, and make the show’s flaws all the more glaring.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts & Entertainment reviews online, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/.
The Cary Players present OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS at 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.
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).