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At my high school reunion last weekend, I was surprised that around 50 of us still live in or near our hometown of Decatur IL. Another ten or so reside not far, in the neighboring states of Missouri, Iowa and WI, with only about 20 far flung. This means the great majority of the class of 62 did not stray far from home.
A lot of our conversation surrounded family. Many of us have a parent or two still alive, and most of us have kids and grandkids, making “Tengo familia” an appropriate mantra for the weekend. The older characters in the County Seat Theater Company production of Joe DiPietro’s “Over the River and Through the Woods” have latched onto this catchphrase; their families are the reason they breathe.
The play features two pairs of New Jersey grandparents, four best buds who now spend much of their lives together. Their kids are among the far flung, with a sole grandson the only progeny to live nearby.
Twenty-nine-year-old Nic (Keith Chapin) comes from NYC to Gramma Emma’s (Corita Fischer) Jersey home each Sunday to eat her great cooking. But he’s about to fly the coop and provide the grandparents with a truly empty nest. To ward off their broken hearts, the oldsters import Caitlin (Aleyse Chapin) to one of their Sunday feasts, hoping their grandchild will fall for her and stick around.
These old folks are familiar to us. How many of ours failed to use the answering machine or the VCR we gave them because they didn’t understand how to work them. Grandpa Frank (Harold Haapoja) has cancer, but won’t reveal it to Nic because he doesn’t want to keep his grandson from a great job on the opposite coast. One of them suggests, “Let’s play the game you gave us- the one we don’t understand.” Their method of playing Trivial Pursuit reminds us of our families’ own versions of the game.
Grandpa Nunzio (Ken Peter) tells Nic how he got to America: his father sent him away on a boat all by himself when he was only 14. He hated this father until returning to Italy with his own little girl. There, Nunzio’s mother revealed how the family’s dire poverty had influenced her husband’s decisions.
This play is about parents wanting the very best for their children even if that means their kids might spin away. Grandma Aida (Lynda Nordstrom) and all the other grandparents touch us in this poignant, funny play directed by Joel Soukkala. “Over the River and Through the Woods” runs at Cloquet’s Encore Performing Arts Center Thursday, October 4 through Saturday, October 6 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, October 7 at 2 pm.