Every writer is given the same piece of advice – write what you know. And that’s exactly what Joe DiPietro did when composing Over the River and Through the Woods, St. Albert Dinner Theatre’s season opener.
Born and raised in New Jersey, the award-winning DiPietro loosely uses his family background to bring out the nostalgia, love, humour, frustrations and occasional embarrassments shared within this Italian immigrant family.
At the start, Nick Cristano is a young professional living in New York City who visits his four loving Italian grandparents every Sunday in New Jersey. They would like him to marry, settle down and have kids. Nick, on the other hand, is offered a promotion to work in Seattle, Washington. When the grandparents hear about a potential move, they’re not above using emotional blackmail and setting him up with a nice girl to keep him at home.
“It’s a beautiful love story, but it’s a family love story about two sets of doting grandparents who have a deep love and respect for each other and their grandson,” said director Christine Gold (Daddy’s Girl, Barely Heirs, Homecoming) who hoped for a role.
Landing the role of director came by chance.
“I was disappointed there wasn’t a part for me. But it was important older female actors do justice to the roles. When I attended a meeting, there was talk about finding a director and I heard myself say, ‘I’ll do that.’ They looked at me and I said, ‘who said that? That was my inside voice.’”
To her credit, Gold stuck to her guns and directs under the mentorship of Rob Beeston, another SADT staple.
“Rob has been there every step of the way. I’m about character and intent, and where the character is going. And Rob is a master of comedy and the mechanics of a play. Rob and I are very yin and yang on this.”
Both are also synchronized in telling the story properly and honouring the playwright’s integrity, in part because of the play’s past successes. Published in 1998, it played Off-Broadway at the John Houseman Theatre for 800 performances over two years.
Jack Morrison (The Trouble With Cats) tackles the role of Nick.
“Nick is a hard-working grown-up, but he has an itch to move. He is feeling smothered by his grandparents but is a loving grandson. He’s funny, warm, smart, patient and kind. Jack has worked really hard on his part. He is Nick.”
Joanne Popplet (Ida) and Stuart McGowan (Frank) play a married couple with vastly different personalities.
“Ida is an introvert. She’s the anchor of the family. Everybody goes to her house for meals and she has this beautiful outlook on life. There's a romantic streak in her. She’s the placator, a strong, steady character.”
Frank, on the other hand, has operated his own business as a carpenter, worked hard and saved his money. He is also a musician who plays the mandolin.
Brett Hammerlindl takes on the role of Nunzio, the other grandfather, as a larger-than-life joker.
“He teases people and sometimes gets into trouble for saying things that border on the inappropriate. He’s not as sophisticated as Frank and is rougher around the edges.”
Martine Adams, making her SADT debut, is Emma, Nunzio’s wife.
“She enjoys conspiracies and cooks up the plan to find Nick a girl. She’s flighty and not afraid to speak her mind. She’s a free spirit and very open.”
Darienne Johnson, also making her SADT debut, is cast as Caitlin, a young Irish woman the grandparents have invited to Sunday dinner.
“We had to find someone who would make Nick pause and have a dilemma in his head, and she does that very well.”
Gold hopes the audience will empathize with each character.
“In a play like this you see the beauty of a family. When you see the journey they go through, you root for them and I hope that will put a smile on people’s faces.”
Over the River and Through the Woods takes place Nov. 16 to 18 and 23 to 25 at Kinsmen Banquet Hall, 57 Rield Drive. For tickets call 780-222-0102 or visit www.stalberttheatre.com