REVIEW: Over the River and Through the Woods

By Dee Jay Gude

This is the story of Nick (Steve Rumpf), an immature and ungrateful 29 year-old who lives near his grandparents—both sets of them—and visits them every Sunday for dinner. Nick has some animosity toward his grandparents, not because they are neglectful or abusive, but because...they love him. They love him dearly and want him to be happy.

So they meddle.

Their motto is "Tengo familia," and family is the most important thing to them. And now Nick must inform them that he's gotten a promotion at work and will be moving to Seattle. To entice Nick into foregoing the promotion, the grandparents invite the spunky and irresistible Caitlin O'Hare (Chelsea Long) to dinner in hopes of making a love match.

The family is of Italian heritage but they could be of any ethnic background, their quirks are so familiar. We have Grandpa Frank, played by John Giusti, who is reminiscent of Harold Gould in appearance and temperament. Giusti is of Italian heritage, and it shows in his realistic portrayal of an 80-something cantankerous Old World man who cannot understand why a few driving errors might mean he should turn in his license.

Franks' wife is Aida (Joanne McDonald), a traditional wife and mother who "never made it through grammar school, never even learned how to drive a car, but lock her in a kitchen with a tomato, pasta dough and garlic, and the woman was Einstein." Imploring her family to eat a little something (but not Chinese food, heaven forbid), Aida serves as the uncomplicated wisdom dispenser of the group.

Grandpa Nunzio, portrayed by radioSOMD's own James LePore, is more light-hearted and contemporary. Along with his apple-cheeked wife, Emma (Dawn Weber), who is straight Jersey in manner and dress, they are the carefree grandparents who go to Atlantic City but still can't figure out how to use their VCR. LePore and Weber deliver some of the most hilarious lines in this production with impeccable timing and inflection. Their affection for each other is realistic, and when Nunzio dances his bride around the living room, serenading her with “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby,” it shows none of the awkwardness or contrivance that is so common with romantic scenes on the stage.

The first act nicely fleshes out the characters, and the actors have a genuine camaraderie, playing off each other naturally and convincingly. The second act becomes more serious and, in the hands of a lesser director, could have turned maudlin. But director Tom Esposito knows his stuff, coming from an Italian family himself, and what could have disintegrated into sappy glop becomes touching and heartfelt. The actors show just the right amount of gravity without taking themselves too seriously or hamming it up.

Written by Joe DiPietro and performed by The Newtowne Players, Over the River and Through the Woods is a comedy that delivers the laughs. But embedded in the humor is a deep message regarding family ties and the drifting away that is so common in this day and age. "You'll laugh, you'll cry," as they say, but you will also call your grandparents on the way home from the theater.

I know I did.

Performances are Thursdays through Sundays, Jan. 22 through Feb. 7. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances start at 8 p.m.; Sunday shows begin at 3:30 p.m. Performances are held at Three Notch Theatre on 21744 South Coral Drive in Lexington Park. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students, senior citizens and the military. Thursday shows are $10 general admission. Light refreshments and beverages are also available for purchase at the theatre.

Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 301-737-5447 or visiting .

You can also enter to win 2 tickets, courtesy of Southern Maryland Online.

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