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Grandma knows best

In Over the River and Through the Woods, a New Jersey boy struggles to set out on his own while his Italian grandparents try to keep him rooted.

Published September 5, 2003

SPRING HILL - Nick Cristano is a young, single Italian-American man ready to tackle the big, wide world.

There is only one problem: His roots are firmly entrenched in the past.

During conversations with both sets of his grandparents, whom he visits every Sunday for dinner, Nick finds that taking a promotion far away from his New Jersey home may not be as easy as it sounds.

Beginning next week, Stage West Community Playhouse will explore Nick's dilemma when it presents Over the River and Through the Woods, a play by Joe DiPietro, author of the comedy I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change.

"I like shows I can laugh at, have fun with and maybe shed a tear," said director Carlos Warner, who had the distinction of directing Stage West's first production in its building on Forest Oaks Boulevard in 1994. "This show does both. It takes you from one emotion to another. I like those kinds of shows."

Nick was mistaken in thinking he could pop into his grandparents' home, announce that he is moving to Seattle to take a new job, then leave without eating.

He never stood a chance.

"I don't think you have to be Italian to appreciate this show," said Betsy Glasson, who plays one of Nick's grandmothers, Aida. "You don't even have to be from New York. It just strikes home. This show has everything."

In the end, Glasson said, the play is about family, tradition and the struggle to set oneself apart while remaining part of a whole. Nick's attempts to make American choices and remain a part of an Italian family provide the tensions that drive the funny and touching play.

"Nick is the only younger member of the family who hasn't left New Jersey," said Danny Brijbag, who plays Nick. "The only reason they're making a big deal is he is the favorite."

The grandparents come to the conclusion that Nick doesn't necessarily want to leave, but that he has no particular reason to stay.

"That's when they start with the matchmaking," said Brijbag. "And you hear great stories coming from each of the grandparents. Each one specifically talks to Nick about why or why he shouldn't go."

Over the River and Through the Woods debuted at the John Houseman Theater in New York in 1998.

The author, DiPietro, received the 1997 William Inge Festival Award for "New Voices in American Theater" and the National Playwrights Conference MacArthur Award for comic writing.

- Joy Davis-Platt can be reached at 848-1435. Send e-mail to

At a glance

WHAT: Over the River and Through The Woods, a play by Joe DiPietro

WHERE: Stage West Community Playhouse, 8390 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill.

WHEN: Opens at 8 p.m. Thursday and continues weekends through Sept. 28. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. Sundays.

ADMISSION: Tickets are $14. The theater's box office is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and one hour before each show.


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