By John Quinn
When an American playwright with a name like “Joe DiPetro” explores the ins and outs of the family, chances are it will be from an Italian-American perspective. But the hallmark of good art is a transcendence of ethnicity and culture. Thus, when the characters in “Over the River and Through the Woods” proclaim that the important things in life are the “three F’s: family, faith and food,” every one of us can crack a smile of recognition.
DiPietro’s engaging comedy is in production at Broadway Onstage in Eastpointe. Its theme is common to a lot of narratives – the disconnection of values and traditions between generations. There’s a twist here: The generations in question are not parent/child, but grandparent/child.
For years, Nick (John Arden McClure) has been showing up for Sunday dinner at the home of his maternal grandparents, Frank (Dennis Wickline) and Aida (Olivia Loria Wickline). His paternal grandparents, Nunzio (Sal Rubino) and Emma Cristano (Francesca Catalfio), also attend the weekly ritual. Nick’s parents have moved to Florida and his sister to California, leaving him the sole focus of his grandparents’ doting. While the intentions are good, the attention is stifling. Inevitably we get down to fundamentals. Emma tells Nick: “I want to see you married before I’m dead.” But Nick is bearing “bad” news. A promotion is taking him to Seattle. The grandparents consider it a violation of tradition. “He has no reason to stay.” Emma tells the other three. “So, we give him a reason to stay.”
That reason would be the lovely Caitlain O’Hare (Star Rothe), daughter of one of Emma’s friends. The Sunday dinner blind date doesn’t go so well, but Nick has the opportunity to re-assess his values. Ultimately the question is: “How much do you owe to those who cared for you?”
“Over the River and Through the Woods” is a story of two couples still deeply in love and the lesson that that devotion can teach to ensuing generations. Director Donna DiSante ably moves a six-person cast around the small stage, but unfortunately, as of opening night, some line deliveries were still tentative. It is worth noting that the senior quartet manages to pull off playing characters a generation older than they actually are without resorting to voice, posture or movement stereotypes.
Echoing through the two acts of “Over the River” is the Italian phrase “tengo familia.” Literally translated, that’s “I support a family.” But it means much more than that; it encompasses devotion, responsibility, integrity. Dipeitro’s gentle resolution demonstrates that the phrase is reflexive: It also means “The family supports me.”
As the late, great baritone Dean Martin put it, “That’s Amore!”
‘Over the River and Through the Woods’
Broadway Onstage, 21517 Kelly Road, Eastpointe. Friday-Saturday through March 24. $16. 586-771-6333. http://www.broadwayonstage.com