Monday, November 15, 2010

The Old Courthouse Theatre - "Over the River and Through the Woods"

The Old Courthouse Theatre has done it again with yesterday's superb reading of Joe DiPietro's play "Over the River and Through the Woods." What's the difference between leaving and moving? It all depends on which side of the fence you are on. Nick, played by Jacob Brayton, is a 29 year old marketing analyst who is planning on moving from Hoboken to Seattle for a job promotion. His parents have already retired to Miami with his sister Melissa, leaving him the only grandchild in Hoboken, where both sets of grandparents reside, and want him to stay. This family has a tradition of "Tango Familia", which, in Italian, means that you have roots, you belong. In short, they are dead set against his going away.

The entire first act is spent with Nick trying to break the news to his grandparents, who are all gathered for a Sunday dinner, that he has decided to leave Hoboken. He can't get a word in edgewise as the family all jockey with one another over the most trivial and seemingly insane matters.

Gene Saine and Margaret Lackey were perfect as Frank and Aida Gianelli, and Ben and Ardyee DeBurle were equally wonderful as Nunzio and Emma Cristanio. Mr. DeBurle's limited use of an Italian dialect was so effective that, even when not emphasizing the dialect, the accent is still in the listener's mind.

Together, the two sets of grandparents hatch a plot to keep their grandson in Hoboken. When Nick is invited to dinner at the Gianelli's home with both sets of grandparents attending, he is a bit suspicous. So when Grandma Emma turns up with Caitlin, played by Alex Eifner with so much charm that you want to marry her on the spot, Nick is understandably mortified. Unknown to him is that his grandparents are a delight to Caitlin, who was raised with only one grandmother, and even she passed away when Caitlin was just 13. She cannot understand the embarrassment and rejection of their love that Nick shows. Subsequently, when he asks her for a date, she turns him down.

Nick has a heart attack immediately after Caitlin turns him down and he comes back to his grandparents to recuperate. It is at this time that he makes his decision to go for the job in Seattle. It is also at this time that Caitlin stops by to see how he is recovering, and to explain why she wouldn't go out with him. She explains that what he has with his grandparents is like a dream to her. She cannot understand, nor tolerate, his rejection and impatience with them. They wish one another well and part ways.

The play is far from serious, though. There are so many lighhearted moments and characters to focus on. The Italian grandmother that thnks the whole world revolves around food, and her awkwardness with Caitlin, who is a vegetarian, over eating the veal will have you laughing out loud. The stories told by Nunzio, especailly the one concerning his getting his union card by pretending to be Irish, all the while telling it in an Italian dailect, is truly a winner. All of the characters have their fair share of the spotlight in this funny and ever so true story about life, and the choices that we make.

Eventually, Nick does take the job in Seattle and meets someone there, establishing his own family and a new set of traditions, giving himself a different sense of "Tango Familia." And that is the point of the play, that all traditions start somewhere, and go on for generations. Sometimes there are subtle changes to those rituals. And sometimes there are major upheavals as we all establish our own, new sets of rules and family traditions. But when you listen to the old folks talking about how they met, and danced the night away, you can't help but feel that with every move we make away from the family, we lose a bit more of that "Tango Familia."

Another triumph for The Old Courthouse Theatre and their series of "readings." And of course, nothing at The Old Courthouse happens without the wonderful efforts of it's host and director, Jonathan Ewart. These readings are a wonderful treat and probably one of the best kept secrets in the Charlotte area.

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