Reviewed by Shelly Hoffman
Clio Cast and Crew opened its 2014-15 season at a sparsely attended Theatre 57 Friday night with Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods. This quaint comedy about the importance of relationships and the tug of home is an apt undertaking for this family-oriented theatre troupe.
The focus of Over the River and Through the Woods is Nick, a single, career-minded twenty nine-year-old, who, each week, visits the Hoboken, New Jersey home of his Italian immigrant grandparents Frank and Aida. They are joined there by Nick’s other set of boisterous grandparents, Emma and Nunzio. Broad ethnic stereotypes, as well as broad (and mostly poorly executed) accents abound.
As the lights go up, Nick (played competently by Rick Spangler) dutifully arrives one June Sunday at Frank and Aida’s to share the news that he has been offered a promotion at work which, if he accepts, will necessitate a move to Seattle. Nick’s news doesn’t go over so well and the grandparents set in motion a plan to entice him to stay.
The opening of this production is slow. Jim Waner, as Frank, sets the tone early with lengthy pauses between lines and a general stiffness. With the entrance of Emma (Sandy Turner) and Nunzio (Ron Fournier) a little life and warmth is apparent on the stage. They are sweet together.
Co-directors Pat Blondin and Cheryl Blondin do little, though, to help convey the overbearing nature of two-sets of Italian grandparents who want nothing but to feed their grandson and see him married. Emma and Nunzio are described by Nick as “the loudest people [he] has ever known”, yet they are never actually loud. Additionally, there are several instances in the script when people are told to be quiet, yet not a sound is being uttered.
The pace is quickened a bit in the second act, especially when everyone enjoys a game of Trivial Pursuit while the grandparents struggle in a comical way to remember the name of “the guy with the ears” (Gary Cooper) who was in High Noon. Then Nunzio relates the heartwarming story of how he met his wife. These moments are the highlights of the show.
Unfortunately, in a piece that is all about family, this ensemble cast projects no semblance of a familial bond. Attention to pace, the addition of overlapping dialogue, and actors actually looking at, and connecting with one another, would all help to tease out more laughter from this charming comedy and to make the more touching moments stand apart.
The set design, by Pat Blondin and Rick Doll includes a cleverly placed, and used, front door and a well-constructed box set with lovely trim. A masterful touch was a window air conditioner that could be seen actually blowing into the room.
The show called for several asides and these were framed with isolated lighting from an extremely clunky follow spot. With such a rudimentary lighting grid, one might have found a more elegant and seamless way to execute these moments.
There are a few laughs as well as touching moments here that remind us that with the love of family comes both joy and sorrow.
Over the River and Through the Woods continues at Theatre 57 (2220 W. Vienna Rd. Clio, MI 48420) October 11, 17, and 18 at 7:30 pm and October 12 and 19 at 2:00 pm. For tickets, call (810) 687-2588 or visit http://www.cliocastandcrew.com.