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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Stage Review
'River' filled with variety of emotions

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theater Critic

 •  'Over the River and Through the Woods'

Manoa Valley Theatre

8 p.m. today and tomorrow, through Jan. 27

Tickets: $25; discounts are available.

Information: 988-6131

Manoa Valley Theatre has a hit on its hands with its new production of "Over the River and Through the Woods" by Joe DiPietro.

The show is a broad family comedy in the tradition of Neil Simon, full of skillfully turned one-liners and belly laughs, but with a bittersweet streak.

It's also warmer and more satisfying than MVT's earlier staging of DiPietro's "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."

The script centers on Nick, a young Italian American considering a promotional move from New York to Seattle, and two sets of affectionate but smothering grandparents who want him to stay. Hilarious intergenerational bickering and wrenching sentimentality ensue.

All of it is neatly packaged by director Betty Burdick, with a good cast and excellent acting.

Joe Abraham plays Nick and — in his first major role outside the University of Hawai'i — is immediately likeable and convincing. He balances Nick's predominant mode of controlled frustration with genuine affection for the old folks that provoke it. And he laces the character with the right amount of indecisiveness that keeps the outcome uncertain until late in the play.

Bill Ogilvie and Lynn Weir are the maternal grandparents: he, loud and grumbling, taking mandolin lessons, but refusing to stop driving despite several fender-benders; she, forever in the kitchen, applying food as the solution to all problems.

John D'Auria and Sharon Adair are the paternal branch of the family tree: he, delighting in storytelling while concealing his cancer; she, splitting her time between the church and gambling junkets to Atlantic City.

Providing an eye of calm among the storming relatives is Lisa Young as the blind date arranged by the grandparents to give Nick another reason to stay put.

What elevates this above a fairly formulaic, one-joke situation comedy are the wonderful characters. Playwright, director and cast come together to create delightful people who possess naivete and depth.

The old people come from a simpler time, when marriages were arranged and couples were satisfied to put food on the table and offer their children a better life.

Without undue moralizing, DiPietro illustrates their pain in releasing the younger generation into a future they themselves do not understand. He also neatly etches Nick's dilemma in giving up the nurturing he no longer needs.

The show should generate excellent word of mouth and be a sold-out success.

Indeed, the only puzzling element in the production are its raised cylindrical platforms — better suited to stylized tragedy than to this gentle, realistic comedy.