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LIGHTNING REVIEW: 'Over the River' balances family and fun

Joshua Marx and Carly Zien perform in ‘Over The River And Through The Woods’ at the Playhouse Downtown. [PHOTO BY SCOTT TREADWAY/TreadShots] Joshua Marx and Carly Zien perform in ‘Over The River And Through The Woods’ at the Playhouse Downtown. [PHOTO BY SCOTT TREADWAY/TreadShots]

A delightfully bittersweet comedy written by Joe Dipietro and directed by veteran Flat Rock Playhouse performer Scott Treadway, “Over The River And Through The Woods” has nothing to do with Little Red Riding Hood. It is, however, about going to grandmother’s house.

If you’re the sentimental type, chances are you’ll experience a range of emotions as “Over The River” unfolds. Having a bit of perspective will help too — remembering the days when you might call a loved one and let the phone ring twice before hanging up, signaling a destination reached safely, while avoiding a long-distance phone charge. At a nearly full opening day matinee, the more senior attendees seemed to relate quite easily to such references and to the play’s emotional predicaments.
The excellent cast of six is introduced by Nick (Joshua Marx). Nick is a 30-something (with no cell phone, amazingly) who has a good job there in Hoboken, New Jersey. Although his parents have moved to Florida, Nick still visits his two sets of grandparents, Italian immigrants, for dinner every Sunday. They are all about “family, faith and food. Tengo familia!” The conversation is lively, and the actors’ pacing is excellent.
Nick’s patience is tested by his loving grandma Aida (Rebecca Koon), who is always trying to feed him. “I’m not hungry.” “Okay, I’ll make you a sandwich.” And by his grandpa Frank (Warren Katz), who, despite several minor crashes, refuses to stop driving. When Nick hints at leaving the East Coast for a job promotion in Seattle, Frank can’t hide his displeasure — “When people get upset they mean what they say.”
Grandma Emma (Barbara Bradshaw) gets busy finding Nick a girlfriend who might help keep him in town, and invites Caitlin (Carly Zien), the daughter of a Canasta partner, to Sunday dinner. Nick’s other grandfather, Nunzio, insists on hearing all about Nick’s job. “Just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear about it,” he says. Nunzio hides a cancer diagnosis from Nick because he doesn’t want it to influence his decision. Although Emma would rather use the news to keep Nick close by, Nunzio refuses.
Nick is annoyed at what he feels is his grandparents’ meddling, or what he sees as their lack of understanding about his new job and the opportunity it promises. But he loves them and doesn’t want to hurt them.
As his grandparents make up their own rules during a game of “Trivial Pursuit,” running around the block and back to find an answer, Nick’s frustration begins to soften. When he makes his announcement at dinner, tears pool up in his eyes.
In a loving, realistic way it points out how different those generations are.
“All my friends have therapists,” says Nick. “What kind of friends do you have?” Aida shrieks. “Nicholas, you expect too much. You have to go to a head doctor and move away?”
Will Nick take the job in Seattle? Will he and Caitlin become an item? Will the grandparents be able to make their peace with it all? How do we balance what we owe those we love with our own aspirations? Tengo familia!

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Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 2 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $15 to $40 and can be purchased by calling the Playhouse box office at 828-693-0731, toll-free at 866-732-8008 or visiting www.flatrockplayhouse.org.