Over the River and Through the Woods is perfect fare for the Flat Rock Playhouse audience. It makes creative use of the newer downtown venue, situating the audience on three sides of the action on stage. It works well under the steady hand of director Scott Treadway. He skillfully weaves the tale of a multigenerational family and all of the affection, embarrassment, endearing quirks and frustrations that come with it.
Joshua Marx, as grandson Nick, leads a cast of seasoned professional actors. He is the last man standing in a proud Italian family, having remained close to the homes of both sets of his grandparents, while his own parents and his sister have moved away. Marx is wonderful as the doted-on grandson who has to tell his grandparents he might move away for a job promotion. The grandparents can’t comprehend why Nick would give up their affection to chase what they see as a lonely path.
Rebecca Koon plays Grandma Aida who finds love in food and feeding everyone around her. Warren Katz is her husband Frank who is on the verge of no longer being able to drive, but stubbornly fights the reality. Katz has an stellar moment when, as Frank, he recalls his poor childhood in Italy and how he was sent to America at 14 by a father he initially resented. It’s a heartbreaking tale of painful misunderstanding that can never be undone.
The other set of grandparents are more boisterous and jolly, providing a nice balance. Barbara Bradshaw‘s Emma is the busybody who ends up inviting a young lady to the weekly dinner in the hopes that Nick will fall in love and decide to not move. Peter Thomasson‘s Nunzio is the embodiment of everyone’s favorite granddad, always entertaining and spinning tales. Both are a delight to watch.
Carly Zien fills the role of Caitlin, the blind date for Nick. Given less to do than the others, Zien plays the outsider role with a sweet subtleness.
Heartstrings are often plucked, bringing the audience to tears with both sorrowful and hysterical moments. It isn’t a downer and it isn’t a comedy: it’s a deft portrait of reality, in all of its humor and sadness. It is a rare show that is able to walk that line without drifting into the overtly silly or syrupy sentimental. The writing by Joe Dipietro is spot on at every turn.
Over The River and Through The Woods continues its run at Flat Rock Playhouse Downtown through Sunday, June 21, with performances Wednesday-Saturday at 8 p.m., and matinees Wednesday, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. $15-$40