‘Over the River’ flows with charm and joviality
By Eric McCrea
The Hopewell Theatre started the New Year strong with Joe DiPietro’s “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which opened Friday to a warm reception.
Nick Cristano, played by Hunter J. Thomas, visits his grandparents every Sunday, but this week he has some great news and some really bad news. A recent promotion means he’ll move to Seattle, leaving his grandparents alone in New Jersey. His grandparents find his departure unacceptable and take him on a wild guilt trip.
Frank Gianelli, played by Terry Shears, appeals to his grandson’s sense of reason to keep him local. His grandmother Emma Cristano (Cher L. Halas) plays matchmaker hoping that love will change Nick’s mind. His grandmother Aida Gianelli, played by JoAnne Santagata, tries to feed him until he forgets to move. But it’s his grandfather Nunzio Cristano (Tom O’Donnell) who can really keep Nick in Hoboken, if he’s willing to be that selfish.
Director and Hopewell newcomer Pat Vidis charmed the audience with a heartfelt and jovial two acts about strong family bonds.
O’Donnell and Shears had a golden buddy dynamic. The pair had great timing and energy together. O’Donnell’s understated emotional subtext made a big impact, emphasizing the sacrifices we make for family. Shears, boisterous and engaging, highlighted the passion that family can evoke.
The doting camaraderie of Aida and Emma felt sincere between Halas and Santagata. Taking care of Nick’s spiritual and nutritional needs seemed to never end. The duo seemed to want to keep Nick around for fear of what his life would become without them: all alone eating Chinese food.
Thomas was impressive in the pivotal role. He seemed to borrow aspects from his grandparents. He had moments where he was the grandson of the loudest couple on the planet, and moments when he was the grandson of a stubborn, unrelenting couple. Thomas seemed to be part character actor and part leading man, which worked exceptionally well in this role, with this cast.
Morgan LaCamera made a fine showing as Emma’s blind-date casualty. She was able to fit in well with the family, without making her role intrusive.
The comedy in this script doesn’t always land, relying often on a “dad-joke” style of humor. The buildup to Nick’s announcement is particularly lengthy. But the sentimental parts compensate adequately.
There were a few opening-night snags in this fast-paced, dialogue-heavy show. A few brief but noticeable pauses seemed to be caused by missed lines and delayed light cues. However, the cast and crew managed to maintain momentum and recovered smoothly.
A static set had the perfect amount of detail creating a true home atmosphere.
If taking in more community theater was on your list of resolutions, The Hopewell makes it easy with this delightful gem.
“Over the River and Through the Woods” will run Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until Jan. 28. For reservations, call 330-746-5455.