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Review: Over the River and Through the Woods

A slice of Italian-American life with laughs and some hard truths
Over the River and Through the Woods now playing with St. Albert Dinner Theatre runs Nov. 16 to 18 and 23 to 25. Seated left to right is Brett Hammerlindl and Stuart McGowan. Standing left to right is Martine Adams, Jack Morrison and Joanne Poplett. MELANIE DOBOS

Emily Dickenson wrote "the heart wants what it wants." The classic line usually refers to romantic love, but in St. Albert Dinner Theatre’s production of Over the River and Through the Woods, playwright Joe DiPietro opens a whole new dynamic. 

Meet Nick Cristiano, a rising star employed at a New York City marketing firm. Despite his pressure-filled professional career, Nick drops by his grandparents’ New Jersey home every Sunday for supper. This time around, he’s excited to tell his Italian-American grandparents he’s received a promotion, but it’s in Seattle.  

The two generations are close. Their deep affection is built around three pillars: family, faith and food. 

That’s not to say there aren’t irritations. Grandma Aida always asks Nick if he’d like to eat and ignores his protests. Grandpa Frank refuses to turn on the air-conditioning even if it’s sweltering in the house. Grandma Emma always hands him mass cards and Grandpa Nunzio calls the VCR Nick gave them "the CPU." 

The grandparents are unhappy about losing their grandson. In desperation, the grandmothers invite Caitlin O’Hare, the single daughter of Emma’s canasta partner for a Sunday dinner in the hopes Nick will decide to stay in New York. 

Caitlin is a nurse who, despite her Irish heritage, enjoys provolone as one of her favourite snacks. Beautiful, polite, and respectful with a breezy nature, Caitlin is the perfect partner for Nick — or so the grandparents believe. And yes, sparks fly, but not in the way the grandparents intended. 

It’s almost like watching a sentimental old TV episode from the '60s, where you predict how the characters will act. DiPietro’s script is loosely based on his life, and as the plot progresses, the differences in both generations start to contrast sharply.  

Over the River and Through the Woods is not a particularly deep play, yet director Christine Gold and co-director Rob Beeston have leveraged their united talents to lift the script and deliver an animated production. 

When you have a cast of four committed veteran actors, they skilfully eclipse the script and deliver loving, human roles. Joanne Poplett and Stuart McGowan as the food-serving Aida and thrifty Frank Gianelli share their living room and dining room as the play’s setting.

Martine Adams as Emma and Brett Hammerlindl as Nunzio Cristiano are the more extroverted couple who love to dance and tell stories about their youth. And because Nunzio has a secret, it allows the pair to become more emotionally multi-layered. 

Jack Morrison as Nick is very much the up-and-coming professional dedicated to building a life of his choosing. Despite having his eye on an upwardly mobile career, Morrison conveys all the caring, compassion, love and yes, frustrations a grandson shares with his elders. 

Although Darienne Johnson as the beautiful and polite Caitlin is in only a few short scenes, her performance is genuine and pivotal to Nick’s final decision.  

There is a series of laughs but DiPietro’s slice of Italian-American life looks at hard truths: a young man’s need for independence and the fact nothing lasts forever. Things change. People leave. People die. And somehow, we adapt. 

Over the River and Through the Woods runs Nov. 23 to 25 at Kinsmen Banquet Hall, 47 Riel Drive. Tickets are $65. Call 780-222-0102, or go online at 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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