reviewed by Vickie Cornelius Phipps

Joe DiPietro’s, “Over the River and Through the Woods”, which opened this weekend at Westfield Playhouse, follows Nick Cristano (Kelly Keller), to his weekly Sunday dinner visits with all four of his 80-something grandparents in Hoboken, New Jersey. Nick is an Italian-American living the life of a modern young marketing executive in New York City. His tenacious, tenderhearted, loud, if not overbearing Italian grandparents lavish affection and inundate him with family tradition and lots of food. As much as Nick loves them, he wants to get on with his life. When he is offered an important promotion in Seattle, Washington, Nick threatens to break the routine by a distance of some 2,800 miles. Frank (Will Carlson), Aida (Jean Adams), Emma (Jan McGill), and Nunzio (Joe Aiello), are heartbroken at the prospect of their beloved grandson living all the way across the country. Devastated, they quickly concoct a series of hilarious schemes to keep Nick in town by setting him up with a pretty girl from the neighborhood named Caitlin (Elizabeth Wysong Berg).

Family dinner with Emma (Jan McGill), Nunzio (Joe Aiello), Aida (Jean Adams), Frank (Will Carlson), Nick (Kelly Keller), and Caitlin (Elizabeth Wysong Berg).

I must admit that OTR has never been on my radar of shows to see. I was pleasantly surprised as this warm-hearted comedy won my heart. OTR has been a mainstay of community theatres for the past decade. The story is clever, fast-paced and funny. The characters are charming and easily identifiable as someone we all know and love. With a lot of humor and some sentimentality, it portrays the universal theme: family is the center of life, “Tango Famiglia”. Translated, it means, “I have a family (to support)”.

Joe Aiello plays Nunzio in Westfield Playhouse’s “Over the River and Through the Woods”

Kelly Keller plays Nick Cristano with sensitivity and compassion as he wrestles with his decision to stay or go. He is faced with the tough question, “How much do you owe the people who care for you? How much is enough?” We recognize the difference between each generation’s concept of family and home. Will Carlson’s portrayal of the very Italian Frank Gianelli is a strong performance and his wife, Aida, was played to perfection by community theatre staple, Jean Adams. The paternal nonni are masterfully played by the endearing Joe Aiello and Jan McGill as his wife Emma. Both were so much fun to watch as the long-time married couple who may complain about each other but are still very much in love. Emma firmly believes that a Mass card is the answer to everything. Elizabeth Wysong Berg rounds out the cast as the hopeful girlfriend.

Will Carlson, as Frank, tells a story to his grandson Nick, played by Kelly Keller, in Westfield Playhouse’s production of “Over the River and Through the Woods”.

Apart from uneven accents and a stage too crowded for the actors to smoothly move, director Doug Davis’ OTR is just the right show to see to get you into the holiday spirit and adds up to a crowd-pleasing night of theatre.

“Over the River and Through the Woods” runs November 15 through December 1st at the Westfield Playhouse, 1836 SR 32 West, Westfield, IN 46074. For tickets call 317-402-3341, online http://www.westfieldplayhouse.org.

  • Photos provided by Westfield Playhouse