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Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli: Over the River and Through the Woods at 2nd Street Theater 

click to enlarge I've fallen and I can't find my grandparents. Oh wait, there they are.
  • I've fallen and I can't find my grandparents. Oh wait, there they are.
I've fallen and I can't find my grandparents. Oh wait, there they are.In Italian, the expression "Tengo Famiglia" means more than just its literal translation of "I hold family." The expression, as writer Joe DiPietro (author of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) shows throughout the production, is more about putting your family first. Even though DiPietro's play focuses on an Italian-American family living in Hoboken, New Jersey, the overall theme of the play transcends cultural boundaries and appeals to the audience. The cast and crew at 2nd Street Theater give this heartwarming comedy about family, food and faith legs and the story itself does the rest.

Nick Cristano is a 29-year-old marketing executive who hoofs it to Hoboken from the city every Sunday to have dinner with both his maternal and paternal grandparents. Nick is offered a promotion, with a catch - he'll have to move to Seattle. Nick's grandparents, Italian immigrants who have spent their lives providing for their families so that their children could have a better life, see Nick moving to Seattle as the end of the world, especially since Nick's parents and sister have already moved thousands of miles away. With the family mantra, "Tengo Famiglia," in jeopardy, the grandparents scheme ways to keep their grandson close - including setting him up with the lovely Caitlin O'Hare - played by Summit High senior Jenny Boyd. Nick must choose between pacifying his family and making a life for himself and learns more about his grandparents in a few months than he's learned his whole life.

Nick, as played by Caleb Neet, is sarcastic, good-looking and funny, although not always likeable. While it's not exactly clear whether DiPietro meant for audiences to have a love/hate relationship with Nick, Neet manages to create a complex character that the audience can identify with, even if they don't like to admit it. While it's painful to watch Nick treat his loving grandparents disrespectfully, Neet allows the audience to ponder his character's relationship with his family.

Rick Jenkins steals the show effortlessly with his portrayal of Frank Gianelli. Without a doubt, Jenkins is the most successful at maintaining a fairly believable Italian accent. (Kudos to Jenkins for also saying things like "bellissimo" with the correct intonation.) Jenkins is hilarious and endearing and even successfully delivers an emotional account of how he learned that his father loved him.

Susan Benson as Frank Gianelli's wife, Aida, is probably one of the best-looking and most stylish great grandmothers (yup, Nick's sister has a son) ever. With flawless hair and eye makeup to make Audrey Hepburn jealous, Aida also pulls of knee-length skirts. Looks aside, Benson encapsulates the quintessential Italian grandmother. Her trademark expression quickly becomes "Are you hungry? You look hungry" as she repeatedly tries to make her grandson and everyone else eat.

Speaking of stylish grandmas, Maralyn Thoma, who plays Emma Cristano, is no slouch either. With colorful heels and eye shadow (and some killer windbreaker suits), Cristano also is able to genuinely channel the New Jersey Italian grandmother who believes mass cards are the answer to everything. 2nd Street newcomer Timothy Pflum, who plays Nunzio Cristano, is also able to realistically portray an Italian immigrant who worked his way up to provide for his family.

The overall set design is right on. The bright and cheery yellow walls are covered with pictures of the Pope and crucifixes and a portrait of JFK sits on the upright piano. The couch is worn and covered with hand-made blankets and there is always plenty of coffee and biscotti to go around. The only thing that may be missing are the plastic furniture covers. The actors also eat - really eat - plenty of food throughout the production. At the infamous setup of Nick and Caitlin, the cast actually eats the prepared meal, which makes one wonder whether or not the food was stone cold and slightly disgusting or fresh out of the oven. If it was the former, the cast doesn't let on.

Audiences can expect both laughter and tears at this play. With moments of hilarity usually centering around the generational gap, like the fact that Nick's grandparents have no idea what Nick does for a living and don't understand that Caitlin being a vegetarian means she does not eat veal (they think she's a veterinarian, well actually, an animal nurse), the audience is assured some laugh-out-loud moments. As Nick and his grandparents come to terms with the fact that Nick is growing up and moving on, you might want to have some tissues handy. Tears aside, this is a great play about family and couldn't be more timely with the holidays right around the corner.

Over The River and Through The Woods
8pm Wednesdays-Saturdays, 3pm Sundays. November 20-December 20. 2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave, 312-9626. $23-25 adults, $20-22 students and seniors.


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