“Over the River and Through the Woods” at Olathe’s Chestnut Fine Arts Center unites a cast of local actors for a heart-warming play about the importance of family, family traditions, and changing ideals.
The play, directed by Shelly Stewart looks at two sets of Italian grandparents who dote on their only grandson as they struggle with his decision to move across the country for a large job promotion which conflicts with their concept of “Tengo familia,” where family means everything and family unity always comes first and foremost.
In the play, Nick (Andy Massey) comes every Sunday to his grandparents’ house where his other grandparents also visit for Sunday dinners. The long-standing tradition becomes strained when Nick receives an offer for a promotion, but the job will rip him away from his roots and take him to Seattle, a far cry from New York where his grandparents live.
In this play, the central characters are Italian, but they could be any immigrated old world nationality, Polish, Russian, Croatian, Slavic, Jewish, etc. The dominating focus is family first. The traditions continue through generations, but fade somewhat in the subsequent generations. The originals came to America, struggled to create a life for themselves and their families. The focus was to prepare a better life for themselves and their children. As the children mature, the stray from the family for newer and better opportunities as the world and society evolve. Thereby, the family traditions weaken and the drive for a new life strengthen. “Over the River and Through the Woods” centers on that philosophy.
Banks is a master at comedy. She makes sure her cast hits on every beat of comedy and keeps the timing fast-paced and rapid-fire. For a comedy to work and build those are must-haves to keep the audience engaged and the story flowing. In Joe DiPietro’s comedy the laughs keep coming from the family dynamics and personalities of the characters in Act I. However, in Act II the plot darkens a bit, but never strays from the concept of family first. Banks allows her characters to make subtle changes as Nick’s departure nears. The glory is that the story never bogs down and no dead space resides in the play. It continues to move toward a somber but happy end.
The grandparents are played by Charles Christenson, Vicky DeLaughder, Eva Gamsu, and Pam Haskins. Their chemistry on set is magical. They create realistic characters anyone can see and identify with. Everyone knows one of these type of characters and may have them in their memories. From the audience standpoint, one would think he or she is actually in the room with these individuals. The characterizations are full-bodied and rich.
Andy Massey plays Nick, the focus of the play, and gives a fun and endearing character who is being pulled in two directions. He loves his family, yet his goals and life pull him to move away from them to fulfill his dream. Massey does a beautiful job of the struggling Italian boy torn between family and career.
The female ingenue character is the ploy used to influence Nick’s choice. She’s an acquaintance of one grandmother and the subject of a surprise blind date for a traditional Sunday dinner. Jennifer Coville plays the charming “stranger” who brings fresh ideas to the family dinner. She’s a vegetarian…a term unknown to the flesh-eating old world order. Coville’s character immediately sparks an interest in Nick, but the relationship just doesn’t succeed.
“Over the River and Through the Woods” continues at the Chestnut Fine Arts Center in Olathe, Kansas. The play continues through May 7. Check the Chestnut website for times, dates, ticketing, and pricing.
Tags: Chestnut Fine Arts Center, “Over the River and Through the Woods”, Comedy, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City Theater