CurtainUp Main Page

Going Places In the Berkshires
CurtainUp Reviews
Over the River and Through the Woods

If you remember the folk song that inspired Over the River and Through the Woods, it continues "and over to grandmother's house we went." In Joe DiPietro's new play grandmother's house is in Hoboken New Jersey and like the goose that laid the golden egg, her kitchen is an unending source of lasagna, provolone and mozzarella sandwiches, cake and other good things to eat. Food is the third leg that holds up the stool that serves as the buttress for this often amusing and occasionally sad theatrical memoir.

As in his very successful Off-Broadway musical revue I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, also directed by Joel Bishoff, playwright DiPietro has once again trained his dramatic microscope on relationships. In this case the relationships are only peripherally about twenty and thirty-something singles but intergenerational, with the focus on the emotional and geographic divide between fast-fading generation of hard-working, food-family-faith oriented immigrants and the less rooted younger generation. The immigrant group settled into houses meant to hold them for their entire lives. Their better-educated children and grandchildren have more diverse and dispersed expectations which lead them to heed the call to sunnier climates and better job opportunities.

Over the River and Through the Woods like I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change provides audiences with the sort of easy-to recognize characters and situations that prompt them sit up and say "that's me"--or in this case, "that could be my family."

The job and personality and ethnic details may differ, but there's enough to provoke laughs that stem from looking at exaggerated mirror images. To represent the young singles DiPietro gives us twenty-nine year old Nick Cristano (Jim Bracchitta). His sister has moved to California. His parents have joined the new immigrant tide of senior citizens headed for the land of Ponce de Leon. While an oasis of differences seems to separate Nick from his two sets of grandparents (Herb Rubens and Shirl Bernheim as Frank and Aida Gianelli; Allen Swift and Marie Lillo as Nunzio and Emma Cristano) he has nevertheless maintained the custom of Sunday meals at the home of grandmother Aida who may lack formal education but is "an Einstein in her kitchen". It is at one of these dinners that Nick drops his bombshell announcement that he too will be leaving New Jersey for a better job in Seattle. The reaction is predictable. Devastation, followed by determination to keep him from leaving. Not surprisingly this determination translates into a Sunday dinner fix-up with a single girl the enterprising and outspoken grandma Emma has befriended at the deli counter. Caitlin (Amy Cronise) is far from a blind date from hell and for a while it looks as if the meddling grandparents are smarter than their grandson.

If all this sounds like a spinoff from Seinfeld--with the focus not on Jerry and George's parents but their grandparents, it is. Unfortunately while I Love You , managed to overcome its Seinfeld-ian triviality--with the help of music, terrific staging and performances that transformed stock types into real characters, Over the River never rises above its sitcom roots. While it's nice to see a play that has hefty roles for four Medicare-eligible actors, all four are saddled with more shtik than substance. That's not to say that some of this isn't amusing--like the scene when the four old-timers play their own version of Trivial Pursuit. The paternal grandparents (Swift and Lillo) have more comic flair and timing than the host-grandparents (Rubens and Bernheim). All have their moving moments, especially the men-- Rubens as he reminisces about his relationship with his own father and expresses his despair about the invisibility that comes with being "just another old person;" Swift, when he decides not to use his illness to keep Nick in New Jersey. There are other shortcomings:

The zingers lack the zip associated with genuine wit.

The middle generation--Nick's parents, who represent the most identifiable age segment of the audience for this type of show, seem to beg more than a mere mention.

The smallest part--the role of Caitlin--also points to the play's failure to give us fully realized characters and a more dramatically satisfying play. The soliloquies that are too generously sprinkled throughout the proceedings, detract from the dramatic impact. Being the chief narrator also seems to rob Jim Brachitta of the incentive to do more than just stand--or sit--open-mouthed when he is not called upon to speak. On a minor note, unless Mario Perillo thinks any mention of his tour is better than no-mention, DiPietro might just consider toning down the implication that the only people going on Perillo tours are 80-years-old. Of course, being a fellow Italian might keep that gentleman's litiginous instincts at bay.

In the final analysis, this comedy adds up to an evening which, while neither riproaringly funny or stick-to-the-mind memorable, is a modestly pleasant entertainment with the laughs less scattered than at other comedies seen at the BTF Main Stage this summer. With a good bit of diddling on the part of both playwright and director, its legs might just carry it to an Off-Broadway run. As it stands, it falls down on too many counts to warrant a heartfelt thumbs up.
©right August 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

By Joe DiPietro
Directed by Joel Bishoff
With Shirl Bernheim, Herbert Rubens, Marie Lillo, Alan Swift, Jim Bracchitta and Amy Cronise
Berkshire Theatre Festival
Stockbridge MA, (413) 298-5536
8/12/97-8/30/97 (opening, 8/13)

Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from

Back to CurtainUp Main Page