OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODSBy Joe DiPietro
Richardson Theatre Centre
Director – Rachael Lindley
Stage Managers – Leigh Wyatt Moore; Penny Chinn
Set – Billy Glenn Allen
Set Construction – Charles A. Alexander; Shawn Wade; Billy Glenn Allen; Rachael Lindley
Light/Sound Design – Richard Stephens Jr.
Sound Technician – Leigh Wyatt Moore
Props – Rachael Lindley; The Cast
Costumes – Rachael Lindley; The Cast
Artistic Director – Rachael Lindley
Producer – Lise Alexander
House Manager/Facebook – Leigh Wyatt Moore
Playbill/Flyers/Enews – Becky Byrley
Nick Cristano – Brandon Simmons
Frank Gianelli – Gerry Perkus
Aida Gianelli – Joan Leonard
Nunzio Cristano – Charles A. Alexander
Emma Cristano – Karen Jordan
Reviewed Performance: 10/30/2015
Reviewed by Joel Gerard, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The plot concerns Nick Cristano, who in his late 20’s is feeling in a rut in his hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey, and wishes to leave town to pursue a promotion he received. He makes weekly visits to see both sets of his Italian grandparents who live nearby. They are the only family he has close by and they clearly cherish his visits. In fact, Nick thinks that most of the time they are loud, smothering, and meddlesome in his life. He would feel guilty leaving them to move across the country for the promotion; but since they drive him crazy, the promotion is looking more and more enticing. In order to get Nick to stay, the grandparents devise a scheme to set him up with a girl so he will fall in love, get married, and stay close by.
Lead actor Brandon Simmons plays Nick Cristano and does an excellent job in his portrayal. He even does a New Jersey accent which stays consistent throughout the show. Mr. Simmons displays Nick’s exasperated and high-strung nature without going too over the top into camp. He does a fine job as the center of the play.
Actress Penny Chinn plays Caitlin O’Hare, the girl the grandparents set up for their nephew Nick. She’s the girl-next-door type and works as a nurse so she has her own career to think about. Ms. Chinn is excellent as the more sympathetic character and the outsider to the boisterous Italian family. She shows Caitlin’s sweet and stable characteristics and why she would be a good match for Nick.
The four grandparents more than a little reminded me of my own grandparents. There are those things that grandparents do that can drive you crazy at times, but they mean well and they’re family. Joan Leonard portrays Aida Gianelli and she is the Italian grandma who always makes sure everyone is constantly fed with pasta and cannoli. She is the caretaker and warm hostess for her family. My own grandma would spend all day cooking. My favorite was chicken and noodles and the noodles were made from scratch! Gerry Perkus is Aida’s husband Frank Gianelli who is getting too old to drive his car even though he still thinks he can. We also went through the same situation with my grandpa. He was in his late 80’s and couldn’t see very well and his reflexes were slow. It was difficult to pry the car keys away from him because he felt he was losing his independence. Karen Jordan is the other grandma Emma Cristano. She is the free spirit who is adventurous and wants to explore and plays canasta to be social. Charles A. Alexander plays her husband Nunzio. He is energetic as well, but he also has some health issues.
All four actors did a great job in their roles. They related to each other well and made it seem like they really were family. Though there were several times that the actors flubbed their lines or forgot a cue, it wasn’t too noticeable since it seemed in character for grandparents to forget what stories they are telling. There was a couple times the script called for the actors to “break the fourth wall” and address the audience directly. It seemed out of place as the soliloquies didn’t advance the plot or add any depth of character.
Billy Glenn Allen designed a set that really hit home for me. It reminded me so much of my grandparents’ house when I was a kid. The lace curtains, the ceramic bric and brac, the mismatched furniture, and the La-Z-Boy in the middle of the room. It was all about twenty years out of style and seemingly frozen in time. The set was warm and relaxing and provided ample room for the actors to move about.
Rachael Lindley directed a fine production for RCT. It’s clear she knew how to best utilize her actors and the space in the theater. The blocking kept everyone moving around the stage nicely and she even kept the momentum of the show going when all the actors were sitting around a table for a meal dealing with real food and drinks. There were, however, several times the actors moved a little too far downstage and out of the light. In such an intimate space it was noticeable, but we could still see the actors.
I enjoyed this production of Over the River and Through the Woods and getting to know these characters at grandmother’s house. This raucous Italian family isn’t my own, but I wouldn’t mind spending more time with them.
Richardson Theatre Centre
519 Arapaho Rd, Suite 113, Richardson, TX 75080
Runs through November 8th 2015
Tickets: Thursdays, 7:30 pm, $20.00; Fridays and Saturdays, 8:00 pm, $22.00; Sundays, 2:00 pm, $20.00. For tickets and information go to www.richardsontheatrecentre.net or call the box office at 972-699-1130.