“Over the River & Through The Woods” – Hale Centre Theatre
This review aired on KBAQ June 20, 2011
HALE CENTRE’S “OVER THE RIVER & THROUGH THE WOODS” IS A WINNER
“OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS”
Hale Centre Theatre
Community Theater can be amazing. Gilbert’s Hale Centre Theatre has mounted several impressive productions over the years and their latest, “Over the River and Through the Woods,” is another winner. This masterfully acted production features a remarkable ensemble that easily convinces audiences they are a tightly knit Italian family. And the Joe DiPietro play, a new one to me, admirably blends winning comedy laughs with heart-tugging emotionalism about the importance of family in our lives.
The play’s set in New Jersey. Two sets of grandparents remain for grandson Nick. His parents have retired to Florida and his sister has moved to San Diego. He’s the only younger generation family member left but a hard-earned promotion will move him to Seattle. His devastated grandparents devise a predictable but endearing distraction to keep him in town so their family Sunday dinner tradition continues.
Although the predictable story and the grandparent’s diversion – a desirable, unattached woman – are standard older generation things, the machinations are humorous and earnest as the play stresses the generational differences. The Sunday dinners are hysterical but prove charmingly the importance of family. Each grandparent is unique but all represent another generation with different thinking. Nick moves, is successful, and marries but never stops coming back for visits.
What makes the Hale Centre production so rewarding is the acting. The ensemble coalesces into a believable family, something that often doesn’t happen when similar family plays are mounted by our top professional theaters. Each actor creates a believable but charmingly unique character.
Kevin Hermann has the youthful sparkle and buoyant personality that is perfect for the conflicted Nick who struggles affectionately with his grandparents but obviously adores and loves them. Barbara McGrath is amazing as Aida, Nick’s food-obsessed grandmother. Her love for Nick is never forced or obvious; it’s just natural, touching, and heartwarming. As her husband, Frank, a hard-working immigrant who’s made a comfortable life for his wife and family, Robert Holt couldn’t better as the typical dominant but loving Italian. Brooke Andrews is forcefully meddlesome as Emma, the grandmother who brings the eligible lady into the mix. Bill Vestal’s Nunzio is a spirited, idealistic dreamer who still used hard-work to win a nice place for his family. And the Italian accents are authentic and winsome.
“Over the River and Through the Woods” is perfect summer entertainment during a time in the Valley when there isn’t much theater. The play continues through July 9 at the wonderfully intimate Gilbert theater. For tickets, call the Hale Centre Theatre box office at 480-497-1181 or order tickets online at www.haletheatrearizona.com.