The current show at the Newport Playhouse is Joe DiPietro's tender, loving comedic look at an Italian-American family. "Over the River and Through the Woods" and takes place in the Gianelli home in Hoboken, NJ twenty years ago . Nick Cristiano is a 25 year old Italian at the crossroads of his life. For his entire life, Nick and his four grandparents have gathered for the traditional Sunday night family dinner. This tradition is about to change when Nick breaks the news that he is leaving New Jersey for a job promotion in Seattle. Bent on keeping their grandson around so he can marry and have children, the four grandparents hatch a plot to keep him in town. Hilarity is the name of the game during the first act while many touching and poignant moments during the second act with Nick learning the true meaning of a loving family with the Italian mantra of "Tengo Familia". Director Sandy Cerel does a fabulous job with this well written script, with her expert combination of comic and dramatic moments from her fantastic six cast members who obtain laughter and tears from the audience. This well directed show is a must see show to melt your hearts into the warmer springtime weather.
Sandy not only cast her show very well but blocks it wonderfully,too. She mixes the old country values with current day trends perfectly. The gorgeous living room and dining room set is by Fred Davison. Hard working stage manager Nishan Lawton runs the lights which have been designed by Jonathan Perry. The lighting design is important when the characters have their soliloquies and in the tear jerking moments, too. Jamie Dufault, a recent graduate of URI, plays the pivotal role of Nick. He does an excellent job in this enormous role. Jamie creates a character that the audience can immediately identify with in his relationship with his grandparents. Nick complains about his grandparents house being too hot, and the grandmother opens the window a crack, then closes it when the other grandparents come over for a visit because they all feel a draft in the month of June. His exasperation at his meddling grandparents who try to fix him up on a blind date to keep him in New Jersey, is mixed with his deep feeling and love for his family. Jamie handles the dialogue and his many monologues with ease showing his prowess for handling the comic and dramatic aspects that the role calls for.
The four grandparents in this show are marvelous in their roles whether they are making you laugh hysterically or making you sob uncontrollably. They show great depth in their roles to get the true meaning of what a family is about. Each of them have their moments to shine in their individual and group scenes. These topnotch performers are Jim Killavey and Sandi Nicastro as Frank and Aida Gianelli, Matt Siravo and Nancy Pinto as Nunzio and Emma Cristanio. Jim tells the serious story of his father who couldn't afford to buy him Christmas gifts because the family was so poor they could barely afford the food for their Christmas dinner, plays the mandolin and is a terrible driver. Sandi is comical with her funny old lady walk and tries to get everyone to eat constantly by asking who's hungry. She cooks these huge Italian meals and tries to force their guest, Caitlin who is a vegetarian to eat her veal. Matt is comical at first when he tells the audience about how he got his union card by pretending to be Irish, by snapping photos of his grandson and telling funny stories about courting Emma and sings "Yes Sir, That's My Baby". He then tugs at your heartstrings when he tries to keep his prostate cancer a secret and not use it to keep Nick in town. Nancy Pinto plays Emma, the loudmouth grandmother who likes traveling around the country on Mario Parillo trips with the senior citizens and continually buys Mass cards for her grandson. The Trivial Pursuit game answer and how they manage to get the correct answer is a laugh out loud moment. Emma fixes Nick up with her Canasta card playing partner's daughter to try to keep him from moving to Seattle. She also wants Nunzio to tell Nick of his health problems to keep him in town and their loving reactions to each other in that scene are excellent. Rounding out the cast is pretty strawberry blonde, 22 year old Katherine Coolidge who has beautiful blue eyes and recently graduated from RIC. She plays Caitlin O'Hare who Emma tries to matchmake with Nick. Katherine plays the part wonderfully as this young nurse who they mistake for an animal nurse because she is a vegetarian and won't eat meat. Her funniest bit is where she calls Nick a jerk for yelling at his grandparents and slips out that she is desperate and hasn't had a date in awhile. Caitlin later returns to explain that when she was 13 her grandmother liked reading to her but had dementia not recognizing her while reading "The Old Man and the Sea". She explains Nick should respect and cherish them while he still has them around. Before the show, you will enjoy the scrumptious buffet with many mouth watering treats by Sue Raposa including delicous meatloaf, chicken marsala and mashed potatoes. The after the show cabaret will keep you entertained with its clever songs and jokes. So for a wonderful dinner theatre experience provided by Matt Siravo for 25 years and the best acted and directed shows around, be sure to catch "Over the River and Through the Woods" for a pleasant and poignant trip down memory lane.