KPBS AIRDATE: APRIL 21, 2000
Over the River and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go… That old ditty was a frothy little trifle… and so’s the play of the same name. Like the song, Joe DiPietro’s comedy paints a Norman Rockwell picture of family get-togethers: rosy-cheeked, infinitely patient grandmas, baking cookies… or, in this case, lasagna. It’s ever so sentimental, but don’t try to tell me its got layers and profound truths. This one is as deep as a snow-dusting in spring… and it leaves you just as cold. The next day comes and it hasn’t left a trace.
“Over the River and Through the Woods” is about family and how you need them, and how you’ll miss them when they’re gone, and how you ought to appreciate them when they’re here, and yadda yadda yadda. The script feels tired, as if it were penned by a struggling, Italian Neil Simon… 45 years ago. The characters are cardboard — a stable of one-trick ponies. One grandma pushes food; the other, prayer-cards. One grandpa is kindly but curmudgeonly; the other is very sick, but doesn’t want anyone to know. The piece is framed as a remembrance, told by Nick, the second generation American to these Old World forebears. But every so often, in an uninventive approach to exposition, each of the grandparents comes downstage, front and center, for a little monologue to the audience.
Nick is the last holdout in his family. His parents and sister have moved away, but he still makes the weekly trek from Manhattan to Hoboken, New Jersey, just to visit and be force-fed. Now he’s got a job offer on the West coast, and when he arrives, his doting grandparents are all too busy –for a ridiculously long time — to hear him when he says he has a really important announcement to make. Totally unbelievable. But once they do hear him, they try to get him to stay; they even fix him up with a girl. He goes anyway, but he comes back to visit. That’s it.
If it were a half-hour long, instead of two hours, it’d be a perfect sitcom. The laughs are cheap and easy, and often predictable. If I want sitcoms, I’ll stay home and watch television. In the theater, I’d prefer a little challenge, thank you, not just forced sentimentality. That said, I can go on to praise the set and lighting… but that’s about all. There is an array of accents on that stage that, frankly, growing up just a bridge away from Jersey, I never heard in my life. Marion Ross and her real-life husband, Paul Michael, are a big draw; I only wish they were on a more inspired canvas.
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.