LETCO Presenting ‘Over the River and Through the Woods’

Play Will Make You Re-evaluate Importance of Family
By RICK MELLERUP | Jun 19, 2019
Photo by: Rick Mellerup

Little Egg Harbor —

The Little Egg Theatre Company will perform the play “Over the River and Through the Woods” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, June 23 at Little Egg Harbor Township’s Edward Thornton Community Center.

“Over the River and Through the Woods” is a perfect selection for LETCO considering the town’s substantial Italian-American population that migrated from North Jersey.

It is the work of Joe DiPietro, best known for writing the book and lyrics for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” which racked up an incredible 5,003 off-Broadway performances, and for doing the same for “Memphis,” which won the 2010 Best Musical Tony Award. DiPietro, as his surname suggests, is thoroughly familiar with the rituals of Italian-Americans, the three-legged stool of family, food and faith. The New Jersey native and Rutgers graduate set his play in Hoboken, and – how’s this for authentic – staged its world premiere at the Belmont Italian American Playhouse in the Bronx before it went on to a long off-Broadway run of its own.

Nicholas (Tony Bessman), a 29-year-old marketing executive, has traveled over the river from his New York apartment to his grandparents’ homes for Sunday dinner for years. But the show starts on a Thursday, when Nick tells Frank (Jim Henry), Aida (Kara Schwaller), Nunzio (Ken Shivak) and Emma (Mary Ellen Marzullo) that his firm is offering him a promotion. There’s only one problem – his new job will be in Seattle.

His grandparents can’t believe it! Nick’s parents have already moved to Florida; his sister now resides in San Diego. The family is dissolving.

So they scheme to keep him “home.” Without telling him, they invite a young Irish woman, Caitlin O’Hare (Tara McQuaid Dixon), to their next Sunday get-together. Hmm, if he would fall for her maybe he would forgo Seattle. The problem is that his grandparents repeatedly embarrass Nick in front of Caitlin, causing him to snap at them. At one point he wonders aloud how he possibly could have come from “these people.”

The show is almost two plays in one.

There’s bickering galore in Act I and it is filled with laughs. Act II opens in much the same manner, with a game of Trivial Pursuit that is downright hilarious. The grandparents can’t possibly come up with one science answer – photosynthesis – and only know the lead actor in “High Noon” was “the guy with the big ears.” But Nuncio, scrolling through a long and seemingly totally unrelated series of recollections, actually comes up with the correct answer for the American writer who was appointed minister to Spain in 1842.

After that, however, the play becomes far more serious. Will Nick move to the West Coast? Will he and Caitlin hit it off? No give away here, see the show.

But if you do see “Over the River and Through the Woods” be prepared for some soul searching.

The United States has always been a nation of migrants, both from other countries and internally. Frank’s father put him on a boat from Italy to America when he was a teen, knowing his son would find a better life there. So should he be surprised that his grandson is thinking of moving to greener pastures? Extended families breaking up is the story of our country, much more so than in most other areas of the world.

Strike out on your own or stay around family? It is a decision so many Americans have to make. “Over the River and Through the Woods” will make you laugh. It will also possibly make you regret your decision, no matter which way you went. That’s perhaps the greatest thing a play can do, make you think.

Tickets are $12 and may be purchased at the door up to 30 minutes before show time. Concessions are available, there will be free coffee, and people are reminded to bring seat cushions to make the community center’s metal folding chairs more agreeable.

Rick Mellerup



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