Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review: Over the River and Through the Woods at The Bickford

If almost non-stop mirth of the belly laugh variety mixed with a few tears in a heartwarming loony family setting rings your entertainment bell, it did mine..then I urge you to spend two hours eavesdropping on the happenings at the Gianelli home in Hoboken. I say eavesdropping because it was very easy last night to forget that we were witnessing a group of fine actors performing on the stage of the Bickford Theatre... that's how strongly we connected with the characters and their situation. 

The play is Joe DiPietro’s very successful comedy, Over the River and Through the Woods. It played first off-Broadway in 1998, then 800 performances on Broadway, and since has been produced all over the world.  It will be at the Bickford only through December 4, 2011.


Center to the proceedings at the Gianelli home is the unmarried grandson, Nick Cristano, (played perfectly by Michael Bernardi-photo). He lives and works across the Hudson and every Sunday he dutifully takes the bus to Hoboken for dinner with his four grandparents as he has since birth. They are simple, and more than loony, people who live for the three "F"s....Family, Food and Faith. Everyone is of Italian stock, Frank Gianelli (Ed Schiff), a retired carpenter lives with his kitchen bound wife Aida (Nancy Lee Ryan) in the home he built for her. Aida, believably played by Ryan, is never happier then when she is feeding her family. Clearly she believes there is no problem that can't be solved with food.

Nearby lives their son-in-law's parents Nunzio Cristano (played by the excellent
Jerry Marino) and wife Emma (Teri Sturtevant... a comedy delight who gives "ditzy" a new meaning). They are permanent fixtures at the Gianelli's Sunday dinner table. Frank has been in America since the age of 14 when his father sent him to America for a better life than he could ever provide in Italy. Schiff's recitation of this event provides one of the most moving moments in the play.  Nick's parents are now living in Florida, his sister is married and living in San Diego, thus Nick is the sole beneficiary of his grandparents' limitless love demonstrated via much hugging and food.

What happens when Nick tells them of his promotion offer? How do they handle his possible move to Seattle? How does Nick react when they invite a single, very eligible young lady to dinner (Noreen Hughes) in hopes that a romance will stop the move to the West Coast? No answers will be provided spoilers. Remember you have only through December 4th to book your laugh night.
The play's message: "The biggest difference between these generations is their concept of family and home. They believed that family was central, and work is something you just do to provide for them. For our generation, it's a lot more complicated."-- Playwright Joe Di Pietro, on his characters in "Over the River and Through the Woods."

The marvelous cast are mostly local;  Ed Schiff, of Livingston, as Frank; Nancy Lee Ryan, of West Orange, as Aida; Jerry Marino, of Lake Ariel, PA as Nunzio; Terri Sturtevant, of Warren, as Emma; Michael Bernardi, of Jersey City, as Nick; and Noreen Hughes, of Bloomfield, as Caitlin.

Prefectly directing this fun-fest is Bickford Theatre's Artistic Director Eric Hafen.  His supporting artistic staff are; Set Design by Bill Motyka, Costume Design by Catherine Mason, Lighting Design by Thomas Rowe, and Properties  Design by Heather Urgina. Yumi Matsuura is the Production Stage Manager.

Playwright Joe DiPietro a New Jersey native from Oradell, is also the author of I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, (the second longest running off-Broadway musical), Memphis (2010 Tony-award winner for Best Musical), All Shook Up and The Toxic Avenger.

Reviewed by Rick Busciglio     November 18, 2011

The Bickford Theatre is conveniently located within the Morris Museum (6 Normandy Heights Road in Morristown, NJ.) and offers free parking and full accessibility.

Performances:  Remaining- Nov. 19 at 8:00 p.m., Nov. 20 at 2:00 p.m., Nov. 25 and 26 at 8:00 p.m., Nov. 27 at 2:00 p.m., Dec. 1 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday Night Chat), Dec. 2 & 3 at 8:00 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets:  Reserved seats are $40 for the General Public, $36 for Senior Citizens, $33 for Morris Museum and Bickford Theatre Guild Members, and $20 for Students (18 or under or with valid college ID). To purchase tickets or for further information, please contact the Bickford Theatre Box Office at 973.971.3706 or visit

The Cast Photos
Sunday Dinner   Full Cast  (TBT)
Aida serves Crumb Cake

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