It’s a theatrical trip.
Bathed in the warmest nostalgia you can imagine, there is something approaching modern in this comedy by Tony-winning Joe DiPietro, who also wrote the book and lyrics for “Memphis” and “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
What you expect is the universal appeal of a show about family, leaving the nest and generational differences. What may surprise you is that there is something more seismically serious running alongside all that, just outside your sight line until the second act. That something seems to be about how juggling priorities — career, family, romance — have has become far more complicated from the Greatest Generation to Generation X.
Family first? Not so fast, grandpa.
The show opens with Italian-American grandparents Frank (Kevin Reilly) and Aida (Miki Edelman) in their comfortable Hoboken, N.J., home, waiting for 29-year-old grandson Nick (Stephen Kaiser) to arrive from New York for his every-Sunday-without-fail dinner. Frank tells us, tells Nick, tells everyone that his motto, his mantra, his motivation has always been “tengo familia,” which he says loosely translates to “family always.”
Just down the street are his paternal grandparents, Emma (Vicki Klein) and Nunsio (Jerry Weinberg), who are also Italian-American and just as family-centered. Nick’s parents have moved to Fort Lauderdale, and his sister is in California.
“My grandparents firmly believed in the three F's of life”, Nick confides in one of many asides to the audience, “family, faith and food.”
But the routine is about to be changed forever with news that the dream job Nick has been aiming for will take him to Seattle. “There’s nothing really keeping me here,” he tells his stunned family.
The grandparents come up with a scheme to keep him from leaving. Enter beautiful and brainy bait in the form of Caitlin (Abby Perkins), a love interest introduced at a wince-inducing, but hysterically funny, dinner party.
That is the kind of maddening but adorable thing these grandparents do all the time: no air conditioning until the Fourth of July; VCRs and answering machines are as complicated as a space station; a game of Trivial Pursuit (in one of the truly inspired comedic bits of the play) that devolves into a zany mnemonic exercise. Nick is exasperated. A lot.
Nevertheless, the show offers a well-articulated coda: Nick’s expectations are so radically different that he’s no longer one of them. The performances get us there in a brisk 90 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. But like I said, there are a few trip-ups. The play has a sitcom feel that’s hard to shake. Some stereotypes rub a tad too close to caricature. And one running joke about the way the grandparents prepare for bad news would be a whole lot funnier if the timing were sharper.
But that dinner party and that Trivial Pursuit game are such rib ticklers, you begin to wonder why Nick would want to ever leave.
IF YOU GO:
Over the River and Through the Woods
Where: Broward Stage Door Theatre, 8036 W. Sample Road, Coral Springs
Cost: $38 ($16 for students)
Contact: 954-344-7765 or StageDoorTheatre.com.