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Over the River and Through the Woods
by Joe DiPietro
Bob Greenspan
Gary Lee Mahmoud
Eileen Marshall
Susana Romero
Lanny  Slusher
Janice Zucker
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Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Sunday matinees May 22&29 2pm
at the Alden Theatre May 20, 2005 - Jun 4, 2005
Producer: Bunny Bonnes
Director: Terry Yates
Assistant Director: Mike Scott
Technical Director: George Farnsworth , Herb Rothenberg
Presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service   --   (GFP)

"Tengo famiglia"
See the Washington Post review

Comedic take on the Italian-American family. The family comes to grips with aging and the immanent departure of Nick, their beloved 29 year old grandson. Nick is the ideal grandson, affectionate and loyal. He never misses a Sunday dinner with his two sets of grandparents.

Somehow, both families smell treachery when Nick tries to make an announcement about an impending move. As if to drown out his voice Grandpa Frank repeats his mantra, "Tengo famiglia," an Italian expression for putting the family first. Grandpa Nunzio considers revealing a tragic fact that will almost certainly force Nick to stay. All four grandparents are bent on finding a way to keep a young man from straying.

An Exquisite 'River' Of Family Dynamics

By Michael Toscano -- Special to The Washington Post Thursday, June 2, 2005; VA26

The Great Falls Players are ending their 40th season on a high note, mounting an exquisitely performed production of "Over the River and Through the Woods," Joe DiPietro's moving comedy-drama about the meaning of family and how different generations view those relationships. There are many hearty laughs and more than a few audience tears before the tale comes to a close.

This is a happy marriage of solid material with a capable cast, led by a director with a firm understanding of the play. The snappy dialogue would make it easy to get caught up in the comedy, and the sentiment could quickly become maudlin.

DiPietro must hold his breath every time the play is staged, hoping it won't be too hot or too cool. He should send a thank-you note to director Terry Yates, who has her six cast members balanced on the razor-sharp line between going for the laughs and tugging at the heartstrings.

The play produced four nominations for acting and two prizes for The Little Theatre of Alexandria at this year's Washington Area Theatre Community Honors awards, and it wouldn't be surprising to see a similar achievement from the Great Falls Players at next year's awards.

Nick Cristano (played by Gary Lee Mahmoud) is a young man facing a life-altering decision. A major job promotion requires a move across the country from Hoboken, N.J., and two sets of doting grandparents with whom he is close. Cristano's parents and sister previously moved away, leaving Nick the focus of the older people's attention.

The grandparents, naturally, are aghast at the notion that he might abandon them, but career-minded Nick tends to notice the irritants of life with his relatives more than the rewards. The grandparents try to fix Nick up with a love interest, a down-to-earth nurse played by Eileen Marshall, hoping that will keep him close to home. It's a hackneyed plot device, but crafted to produce interesting friction instead of expected results, and the diversion adds texture to the story's conclusion.

Mahmoud blends exasperation and warmth nicely; Nick's chafing under his family's attention never gets grating. But the play belongs to the grandparents, played by Lanny Slusher and Susana Romero as the Gianellis, and Bob Greenspan and Janice Zucker as the Cristanos. Slusher and Greenspan are particularly effective with their richly written roles. Slusher's Frank Gianelli had been sent to America alone from Italy at the age of 14 to escape the poverty that ensnared his family. The emotional wounds that separation created make him cling to the concept of "tengo famiglia" (literally translated as "keep/cherish the family" but imbued with deeper significance). Slusher adroitly uses a working class New Jersey accent, subtly tinged with Italian intonation, that enhances the authenticity of his performance.

Greenspan is low-key and understated as Nunzio Cristano, avoiding histrionics as a terminally ill man who knows that revealing his secret would keep his beloved grandson from leaving. His subtle performance showcases multiple layers of emotion and character to vivid effect.

Scenic designer John Downing, known for his beautifully detailed, realistic sets, might have been expected to create a warm, lived-in looking home for this play, but he went in the other direction, designing a minimalist set with only basic frames. It seems cold at first, until the cast creates that most delicate sensation, the warmth of real personal connections.

Although the family onstage is Italian, the themes and relationships are universal. In fact, except for Slusher's Italian nuances, the family members actually have what would usually be described as stereotypical New York Jewish voices. But none of that matters. The value of this play is found in the heart, not the throat.

"Over the River and Through the Woods" concludes this weekend at the Alden Theatre at the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. Showtime is 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets are available in person only at the Alden Theatre box office or by calling Ticketmaster at 202-432-7328.

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