Each time I see "Over the River and through the Woods" at Akron-area theaters, its sweet humor and poignant emotion rings true. That's because this comedy by Joe DiPietro about the intergenerational disconnect between ethnic grandparents and their young professional grandson is timeless.

At Stow Players at Heritage Barn in Silver Springs Park, this heartwarming show, directed by Brian Westerley, features a cast of unforgettable Italian grandparents that includes three actors who have also been known as all-stars for many years at Weathervane Playhouse — Ralph Cooley, Harriet DeVeto and Tom Stephan. They play Nunzio and Emma Cristano and Frank Gianelli, respectively, joined by Barb Howitt as Aida Gianelli, whose life centers around feeding loved ones her wonderful Old World food.

In the Gianelli household, there's no such thing as a person going hungry. That's where New York resident Nick goes every Sunday in Hoboken to eat dinner with grandparents Frank and Aida as well as Nunzio and Emma, his other grandparents who live just two doors down.

Around this dinner table and in the living room, these grandparents end up meddling in Nick's life as they stress the importance of "Tengo famiglia!" That's translated literally to mean "I hold" or "I keep family." But its deeper meaning is about providing for family. 

These two proud sets of immigrant, working-class grandparents, who scraped out a life for their families in the United States, cling to this mantra because it is everything. They stress the three "F's," which are faith, family and food.

Tyler Barhorst plays 29-year-old Nick with a nice balance of exasperated bemusement and plain old agitation toward his grandparents. Amid the emotional blackmail, Grandma Aida guilt-trips Nick about food while the other, Grandma Emma, guilt-trips her single grandson about marrying before she dies. Grandpa Frank kibitzes about whether he can still drive and Grandpa Nunzio tells yarns whose details change every time.

DeVeto's face as spitfire Emma is priceless as we see her put up with Nunzio's blustering. Cooley and DeVeto create the most comical scene in the show, playing off each other in the most convoluted Trivial Pursuit game you'll ever see.

They also create an aura of lovely romance as Nunzio recounts how he wooed Emma. In contrast, young visitor Caitlin O'Hara, played with quirkiness by Alison Matas, gives the uptight Nick a run for his money.

DiPietro creates monologues for most of the characters that are especially illuminating for the grandparents, going beyond their loud antics to reveal their innermost thoughts and values. Stephan brings to life one of the play's most painful moments as Frank speaks about his own father's sacrifice back in Italy, and Nunzio does the same while remembering his late son, also named Nick.

These grandparents are full of both pride and wisdom, ultimately questioning whether the younger generations are better off than they were, despite having more money, possessions and education. The message in this story, told from Nick's perspective as a memory play, is about gaining an understanding of your loved ones as individuals and accepting them for who they are.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.