“Over the River” Serves Plentiful Laughs Family Style
Much like the lead character of Nick Cristano in Curtain Call Theatre’s production of Joe DiPietro’s 1994 very successful family comedy, the audience is welcomed into the home of and Aida and Frank Gianelli. Frank and Aida are Nick’s mother’s parents and his paternal grandparents Emma and Nunzio Cristano live two doors down and all five have shared Sunday dinners together for many years in Hoboken since Nick’s parents have retired and moved to Florida. Nick has called them all together for a very special announcement on a Thursday night and struggles mightily, for about a quarter of the first act, to get out the news that he has been offered and accepted a promotion and is moving to Seattle. His grandparents decide he needs a woman to settle down with where he is, so they invite a blind date, Caitlin O’Hare who Emma has met at Pathmark to Sunday dinner.
The cast is chock full of fantastic actors who have all triumphed on the Curtain Call Stage in productions stronger than this one but one of the chief pleasures of the evening is enjoying the company of these delightful, stalwart veterans of the Capital Region theater community. Kathleen She Reilly (“Old Love, New Love,” & “The Importance of Being Earnest”) and John Noble (“The Night Alive,” “The Outgoing Tide”) play our hosts Aida and Frank and they’re generosity personified. Aida plies everyone with food, even mailing lasagnas cross country and Nunzio regales us with stories of his fourteen-year-old immigration to the States. Kathleen has a twinkled, bemused, humble “life of the party” magic to her as she limps back and forth from the kitchen delivering love disguised as veal. John is terrific as Frank with his easy storytelling authority and anger over his threatened independence when no one thinks he should still be driving. It’s a great part for him and he enjoys asserting and reacting to threats to his authority in a variety of funny ways.
Rich Angehr (“The Outsider”) gives Nunzio a bit of the wise guy persona which is perfect for his retired machinist from Jersey hiding a fatal secret. Pat Brady (“Our Son’s Wedding”) is stunning and fabulous with her grand gestures in animal prints that punctuate and goose the accompanying mayhem once the news breaks. She strikes a commanding figure onstage and can snap your attention with sharp intelligence and razor-sharp timing.
Chad Reid (“Greetings!”) assumes the lead role of the grandson Nick with easy authority proffering a dialect and handling the many direct addresses to the audience with aplomb. His good nature, anxiety and ambition can be seen warring within him as he navigates the right thing to do and how to get there until it literally brings him down. Emily Fernandes (“The Outsider”) serves the script perfectly as the lass who came to dinner and she couldn’t be more appealing.
The play is over 25 years old and its primary concern of children following their muse wherever it leads across the country leaving their hometowns behind may not be as relevant as it was a quarter century ago and there are many dated references which could not be excised without sacrificing a great amount of the fun. The grandparents think a vegetarian is a pet doctor, they can’t work their VCR and think therapy is for the truly demented. DiPietro has two great group scenes, the Sunday family dinner with the blind date and a Trivial Pursuit game in Act II, with everyone on stage and they work pretty well at Curtain Call garnering huge laughs. DiPietro’s script has sharp observations, fresh takes on human behavior and subverts your expectations frequently enough that you never feel you are being coddled with sentiment. The audience and I ate it up and gave a sustained and hearty standing ovation.
The rehearsal process was interrupted frequently and there were still some loose ends on the opening weekend where scenes were not all played with the sharpest authority. There were some odd blocking choices by director Steve Fletcher, scene changes that happened slowly in silence and a set by Frank Oliva that looked somewhat unfinished. Still, it was an unmitigated joy to watch this cast play after a year and a half of being shut in. What Nick will miss when he moves to the West Coast and what we can celebrate on Jeanne Jugan Lane are spending time in the same room with seniors whose lives have included time spent fulfilling their dreams and our awestruck admiration and appreciation for them and their gifts.
Through 12/5 @ Curtain Call Theatre
All Photos by Peter Max