Dante tells us that the Gates of Hell are labeled, "Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch'entrate," which means, "Abandon all hope, you who enter here." Nick Cristano might have heeded these words if he thought, for an instant, that he would be able to pop in to his grandparents’ home, make an important announcement, and leave soon, without eating. There was no chance of that happening, for that would not be the way of his famiglia, or "family". His attempts to do just this, however, provide the hilarious opening to Over the River and through the Woods. This is a play about family, traditions, and love and the struggle that Nick makes to both love his family and yet live as an individual. His attempts to make American choices and remain a part of an Italian family provide the tensions that drive this funny and touching play. Can Nick make this career decision without being meddled, advised, wed, and fed to death?
Overrun since pre-history by the Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Normans, Spaniards, various types of Goths, and today by tourists, the Italians kept things together through the strength of the family. United against outsiders, la famiglia nurtured, protected, and provided. The individual was measured by their role in the family, and to live without, or apart from one’s family was not often possible. To maintain a family was the proudest and most challenging task for the Italian male. "Tengo famiglia," literally, "I hold a family," is a statement of pride and responsibility, a mantra of duty. But Nick, the second generation born in America, doesn’t see it that way. His parents have abandoned the field and fled to retirement in Florida, leaving Nick to be the good grandson, having dinner with his grandparents every Sunday, and putting up with their idiosyncrasies and the behaviors that drive him to distraction.
So Nick is going to take a job and move out of town, but not without la famiglia trying to hold him, and themselves, together. His grandmother arranges that a single girl, Caitlin, come to dinner, and perhaps if a match is made, Nick will abandon this crazy idea of leaving the family. The character of Caitlin is Nick’s mirror. She finds his family’s behavior charming and entertaining, and she finds Nick’s intolerance of them, well, intolerable. With this new perspective Nick sees his family as people, no longer as a unified force of food and quirky behavior meant to obstruct his will to be an individual. And la famiglia, they also come to see Nick as a man, not frozen in time as "the grandson," but as a man who "tiene famiglia," who has a family, who is a man, and who has a reason to be alive.
"Over the River and Through the Woods" debuted at the John Houseman Theater in New York in 1998.
About the Author
Born in New Jersey in 1960, Joe DiPietro tried first to write sketch comedy. He got his break in 1992 when he met producer Jimmy Roberts and teamed up to write the long-running off-Broadway musical, "I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change." This show would open in more than 150 cities and has been called "a battle of the heterosexes" by the New York Post. Mr. DiPietro has also written a "new Gershwin" musical, abstracting elements of a 1926 musical, "Oh, Kay!" into "They all Laughed." He has been commissioned by the Elvis Presley estate to write a musical incorporating popular Presley songs. He received the 1997 William Inge Festival award for "New Voices in American Theater," and the National Playwright’s conference "MacArthur" award for comic writing.
In this play Mr. DiPietro has used his real grandparents as source material for his characters, but the action of the play is fictional.