(Cover Photo: The cast of Joe DiPietro's "Over The River and Through the Woods" presented by Square One Players. Photo Courtesy of Joanne Smith)
Abbodanza Laughs with Square One’s debut show “Over the River and Through the Woods”
By Kevin T. Baldwin
Performances to be held at the Flanagan Theater in Southgate at Shrewsbury, 30 Julio Drive, Shrewsbury, MA.
Performances: July 31, 2021 at 7:30pm; August 1 and 8, 2021 at 2:00pm August 6 & 7, 2021 at 7:30pm
Written By: Joe DiPietro
Directed By: Edward D. Lindem. Production Manager Joanne Smith. Stage Manager Tara Wykes. Asst. Production Manager Tara Alano. Costumes by Foley Herrmann. Prop Mistress Krissi Forgues.
Cast Includes: Dan Biggins, Christina Pierro, James Lamoureux, Jim Catapano, Stephanie Sarkisian, April Swanson.
SHREWSBURY, MA. - Watching Joe DiPietro’s “Over the River and Through the Woods” may initially come across as hokey, family schmaltz but, at the center of the script is a truly heartwarming story and, in making this show their debut, Square One Players is off to a fine beginning.
Picture it: Hoboken, New Jersey.
Nick Cristano (James Lamoureux), at 29, is an established marketing executive based in New York City.
However, his loving grandparents never let him forget where he belongs: in New Jersey with them.
Nick’s two sets of grandparents still reside, as they have for over a generation, two doors down from each other in Hoboken, and every Sunday, like clockwork, they spend their Sunday meals together…with Nick.
Nick’s parents have retired and moved to Florida and his only sister has relocated to California, leaving him his grandparents’ only remaining local familial connection.
His grandmother, Aida (Christina Pierro), is, according to Nick, a “genius” in the kitchen who is constantly…but lovingly…forcing food on Nick.
Nick’s grandfather, Frank (Dan Biggins), keeps the house hotter than a greenhouse in July. Frank is at that point in life where he has become a moving violation personified and Nick must constantly…but lovingly…convince Frank that he must give up driving.
Jim Catapano and Stephanie Sarkisian play Nunzio and Emma, Nick’s other equally eccentric grandparents.
While the “Italian-American” element of DiPietro’s story struggles, in director Edward Lindem’s staging, when Nick informs his grandparents that he is relocating to Seattle because of a big job promotion, the initial reaction by his grandparents and the show’s subsequent events should feel all too familiar in any similar family dynamic.
Emma and Aida conspire to find a girl for Nick in the hopes he’ll change his mind and want to remain in Hoboken.
Emma invites Caitlin (April Swanson) over and sparks do fly, but not in the way the well-intentioned manipulators expect, as Nick sees through the manipulation and, in an explosive emotional outburst, suffers an anxiety attack.
DiPietro wrote the book and lyrics of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and “Memphis”. With “Over the River and Through the Woods” there is a feeling of familiarity because, while all three shows tend to feature stereotypical characters, DiPietro’s approach to the material brings an enjoyable sincerity and tender quality to the dialogue.
All of the performances are equally earnest - humorous without falling into farce, yielding many honestly achieved laughs throughout the show. There is a “Family Trivial Pursuit” scene which is the comedic high point of the show.
Then, conversely, there are far more subtle, more subdued moments that seem to catch both Nick (and us) off guard. These scenes reach deep within, moving us nearly to tears.
It is here that Jim Catapano, as Nunzio, has a slight edge over the rest of the cast. For we discover, through an aside, that Nunzio has a secret which he holds close to himself. This was an extremely clever device by DiPietro as that allowed some of Nunzio’s interactions with Nick and Emma to become more heightened and emotionally multi-layered.
Serving as the show's virtual "lightning rod" for the antics of everyone else around him, Lamoureux also serves as an indispensable straight man.
One technical element which did not seem to work well was in the area of isolated lighting used during the aforementioned asides (or those “breaking the fourth wall” moments). The cast were many times speaking in darkness but, moreso, these moments seemed that they could have been just as impactful without any use of isolation.
But Square One’s debut show’s mantra is “Food, Family and Faith” and, given the year and a half of what many people in this nation have experienced, that is a concept that certainly resonates, making for an extremely enjoyable evening with “abbodanza” laughs.
Remaining performances are Sunday, August 1st at 2pm, Friday, August 6th at 7:30pm, Saturday, August 7th at 7:30pm and Sunday, August 8th at 2:00pm.
Ticket prices are $20 for General Admission and $17 for Students/Seniors.
All performances take place at Flanagan Theater in Southgate at Shrewsbury, 30 Julio Drive, Shrewsbury, MA.
Reserve tickets now by visiting www.squareoneplayers.com. Tickets can also be reserved by calling 508-669-7750.
The show runs approximately two hours with one 15 minute intermission.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)