'Over the River' among best of OST offerings
OKOBOJI, Iowa -- The opportunity to see a play with four of Okoboji's favorite performers all together at one time brings special delight for audiences this week. And the standing ovation at the opening performance, so rightly deserved, wasn't ju...
OKOBOJI, Iowa -- The opportunity to see a play with four of Okoboji's favorite performers all together at one time brings special delight for audiences this week. And the standing ovation at the opening performance, so rightly deserved, wasn't just for the professionals; the student actor working with them in a major role received hearty applause as well.
"Over The River And Through The Woods" by playwright Joe DiPietro (best known for his Off-Broadway success "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change") is, as you might guess from its title, a story about going to grandmother's house. In this case, there are two sets of doting grandparents, Italian-Americans, in Hoboken, N.J., and one grandson who's expected for dinner with all four grandparents every Sunday. The young man's parents have moved to Florida, his sister to California, and now Nick has a job promotion, which will take him to Seattle, Wash.
To these grandparents, the idea of his moving away is a disaster too terrible to accept, so they put their heads together to dream up ways to keep him in the New York-New Jersey area.
This is a very funny show, and yet many tender, insightful moments give the comedy a serious, satisfying side as well. We are reminded of parents and grandparents in real life who face family upheaval when members of the clan move across country far beyond the reach of a regular, old-fashioned Sunday dinner.
Addison Myers and Rob Doyen make splendid grandparents and are nicely matched by their wives, Beth Leonard and Lamby Hedge. Volatile Italians, the four talk fast, interrupt each other and grandson Nicholas while each strives to tell his/her favorite story, often tales that embarrass Nick. As comic as these older folks are, no one goes over the edge into slapstick or caricature. These are real believable people. A woman in our row at the theater remarked that Myers, in particular, is so natural in his part that he never even appears to be acting. When in Act One, with a twinkle in his eye, he introduces himself and his wife as "the loud ones," he brings down the house.
Doyen has an especially meaningful scene where he tells how his father sent him off to America alone when he was a teen-ager in order to secure his future. When he thinks back on his father's sacrifice, finally he is able to admit that Nick's move to Seattle is really nothing at all. Doyen's character is a gruff, grouchy old man, especially when his wife and Nick urge him to give up driving the car for safety's sake, but underneath that exterior, Doyen reveals the man's heart of gold.
Hedge, as Doyen's wife, plays a devoted homemaker and cook. All the family dinners seem to take place at her house. She can solve any problem with a plate of lasagna or ravioli and an extra sandwich to take with you, even if you aren't hungry. Hedge moves like an older person whose movements are unsteady (she never slips out of character for a minute), but this woman makes it known that she will never give up her rightful place as cook and hostess.
Leonard, OST's artistic director as the breezy grandmother, is equally convincing and, in spite of her witty retorts, shows her deep love of family. She and Myers have a very sweet scene where they dance together, eventually joined by the others with grandson Nick drawn into the circle.
Student Matt Weiss makes an ideal grandson. Sometimes impatient with his old-world grandparents, he remains a kind, tolerant young person who wants his family to be safe and happy. Nick's frequent asides to the audience, explaining his feelings, are successfully executed as well.
A very amusing segment introduces one more character, a young woman (well played by Emily Kelly) whom the grandparents invite to dinner as a surprise for Nick with the obvious intention of finding a girlfriend for him that may keep him in New York. The grace spoken before the meal, "bless our lovely guest and our lonely grandson" leaves an exasperated Nick rolling his eyes.
A comfortable old-fashioned living room, with the addition of a little garden near the front door, serves the play well. Directed by Paul Hough, "Over the River" continues through Sunday. Added matinee performances fill popular demand for this one-of-the-best-ever Okoboji shows.