Published in KPBS On Air Magazine April 2000
It’s all in the family. “Over the River and Through the Woods” is about going to grandmother’s house, and other things familial. And the Old Globe production (through April 30), part of its 65th anniversary year, is a family affair.
The director is Craig Noel, 65 years with the Globe. The cast features stage and tv actress Marion Ross, who first performed at the Globe 50 years ago, when she was a sophomore at San Diego State College (now SDSU) — in a play directed by Craig Noel. Ross plays one of the grandmothers of Nick, portrayed by Matthew Troncone, a recent Old Globe/MFA graduate. The girl his grandmas try to fix him up with is played by Christine Brown, a current Old Globe/MFA student. And oh yes, Ms. Ross’ husband is played by …. Ms. Ross’ husband, Paul Michael.
It was Ross and Michael who first proposed the play to the Globe, but rights were hard to come by. “Over the River,” written by Joe DiPietro (frequently dubbed “the Italian Neil Simon”) is still billed Off Broadway as “New York’s longest running comedy.” Di Pietro’s other long-running audience-pleaser is the musical comedy “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
“The audience is going to love this play,” says the cheerful, friendly Ross, best known as the distinctly different mothers in tv’s “Happy Days” and “Brooklyn Bridge.”
“It’s really about these long, 50-year marriages. And I love Italian families. I had a reserved, Scotch-Irish background. I like the affection, the expansiveness, the way they take care of their older people. We’ve lost some of that in our culture. We’ve thrown away tradition, family, stability, constancy.”
But in Nick’s family, his grandparents are dyed-in-the-wool traditionalists. They want him to make regular visits to their Hoboken, New Jersey homes. They want him to eat during every one of those visits. And they don’t want him to go away when he gets a great job offer on the West coast. They’ll do anything. Even find him a girl to help him settle down.
“It’s a very funny play,” says Ross. “Audiences laugh so hard, and then they cry.”
“It’s sentimental, it’s maudlin, it’s corny,” Craig Noel admits. “Just like life. But
I think it will be a great success. It’s honest, it’s real, it says a lot about society today. It’s a play of value that will probably be completely dismissed. But audiences will enjoy it and identify with it. It’s a very, very funny play. I’ve always thought of myself as a comic director. I always liked the small canvas, rather than the large one. The simple, human stories. When I worked in Hollywood, I always wanted to emulate Frank Capra; I never wanted to be Cecil B. DeMille.”
But, like DeMille, Noel has influenced an enormous cast of characters, including Marion Ross.
“Craig has played a part in my life for over 50 years,” says Ross. They last worked together at the Globe in ‘Summer and Smoke’ in 1973. “Now Craig is 85 and I’m 70, and doing this play together — and also with Paul, my love — just makes me weep.”
©2000 Patté Productions Inc.