Fortune Theatre, Dunedin

11/06/2016 - 09/07/2016

Production Details

A comedy about family, love and lasagne  

OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS, written by award winning playwright Joe DiPietro as a tribute to his own grandparents, brings the universal themes of family and food centre stage in a very funny play about changing generations.

After more than 200 performances on Broadway, Fortune Theatre is pleased to present OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS for its first professional NZ season, from 11 June to 9 July.

Nick is a single, Italian-American guy from New Jersey, but when he is offered a dream job in Seattle and tells his grandparents of his intention to move, the announcement goes down like a lead balloon. They have already lost Nick’s sister and parents to distant cities, so Nick’s desire to move for professional advancement is the last straw. How can Nick abandon his family for a job on the far side of the country? What will happen to their weekly Sunday dinners? Thus begins a series of schemes to keep Nick around. Both sets of grandparents do their level best to make Nick stay, including bringing to dinner the lovely – and single – Caitlin O’Hare. The resulting situation is deliciously entertaining and filled with fun.

Byron Coll (All Black fan “Tim” in the MasterCard adverts; “Penguin” in Top of the Lake) stars as Nick, the young man torn between family and career advancement, and Nadya Shaw Bennett (Flagons & Foxtrots; The Motor Camp; Farley’s Arcade) plays the charmingly down-to-earth Caitlin, who forces him to rethink his attitude towards his grandparents.

The cast is rounded out by Simon O’Connor (Play; Outside Mullingar; The War Play), Karen Elliot (Hush; The Keys are in the Margarine; Be | Longing), Steven Ray (You Can Always Hand Them Back; Mary Poppins) and Jane Waddell (A Shortcut to Happiness; Joyful and Triumphant), who play the lively quartet of grandparents determined to keep their Nick close at hand. Charm, wit and warmth abound in this delightful comedy. A winter treat not to be missed!

…a little slice of genius.” New York Times

Artistic Director Jonathon Hendry said, “It’s very exciting to work with such a great line up of actors in my debut production at the Fortune as director, including Karen Elliot who I acted with in the late 80’s at Fortune. Directing Jane Waddell who directed me as student at Drama School, and working for the first time with former student Byron Coll, I’m reminded of themes of growing up and standing on the shoulders of those that went before. We have a winter treat in store for audiences that is very funny. This play celebrates family and the difficulties that we encounter when wanting to do things differently than the people who made our lives possible.”

“The biggest difference between these generations is their concept of family and home. Our grandparents believed that the family was central, and work is something you do just to provide for them. For our generation, it’s a lot more complicated.” Joe DiPietro

Find out more about Over the River and Through the Woods at fortunetheatre.co.nz 

Fortune Theatre
11 June to 9 July
Tuesdays, 6.30pm
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 7.30pm
Sundays, 4pm
(No show Mondays)
Book here

Theatre , Comedy ,

Charming story of family foibles

Review by Barbara Frame 14th Jun 2016

Families – they care for us, they love us to bits and they drive us crazy.  

The Fortune’s new comedy features an Italian-American family in Hoboken, New Jersey, and centres on thirtyish Nick (Byron Coll), whose geographically immediate family consists of his four grandparents (Karen Elliot, Simon O’Connor, Steven Ray and Jane Waddell), whom he sees every week. Overwhelmingly nice though increasingly frail, they spoil him rotten.

One day Nick’s offered his dream promotion – to Seattle. What’s the grown-up thing to do? If he goes, what will happen to his romantic attraction to Caitlin (Nadya Shaw Bennett), of whom the grandparents so heartily approve? Which matters more, tradition or independence? [More


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Joyful portrait of intimate family life

Review by Terry MacTavish 13th Jun 2016

“Over the river and through the wood, to grandfather’s house we go”: the traditional American song of that dangerous but tempting journey back to the safety of childhood, of welcoming arms, warming food, and thanksgiving feasts, of the Family. Yum. Perfect cosy choice of play for midwinter theatre in the Eden of the South. But is it really desirable, is it even possible, to remain cocooned forever? 

Italian American Nick, who dines every Sunday with his two sets of doting grandparents, must decide if he can leave them for a new job in far-away Seattle. He will be the last of their brood to shift away, thus denying the code they have brought from Italy, that the Family is everything. “Tengo famiglia”, the grandparents chorus, literally “I have a family”, but as with ‘mana’ in Maori, signifying so much more than the literal translation. So to prevent the family from shrinking further, they must increase it: a girlfriend for Nick! 

The plot could not be more straightforward. We chuckle happily as a blind date is forced on Nick in the form of Sunday dinner with the family and the lucky girl. We watch as Nick makes his decision. The only complication is, as Nick says, “What irritated me most is that she actually seemed terrific. When your grandmother sets you up, you have every right to be disappointed.”

This is a nostalgia play, a ‘memory play’ like The Glass Menagerie but without the biting depth of Tennessee Williams’ guilty regret for the family he has abandoned. That Over the River is not merely sentimental is due to the first-rate acting team that under accomplished director Jonathon Hendry, ably assisted by Benjamin Henson, maintains a heady pace while endowing the characters with rich inner life and truthful relationships.

Lindsay Gordon’s crew have excelled themselves with the technology. The impressive set depicting a 1990s New Jersey home is one of finest designer Peter King has created.  Boasting both height and depth, it is a brilliant basis for this realistic production: a beautiful two storied house that allows us to look at one and the same time into dining and living rooms, hallway and front porch, with the illusion of bedrooms upstairs and passages to the kitchen and rest of the house.  

Properties Master George Wallace has ensured the set is well-dressed, from the dressing gowns on hooks upstairs to the framed Roman Catholic print of Jesus with heart exposed, hanging quaintly against the wildly elaborate wallpaper. There are delicious details like the protective plastic cover that is never removed from the new couch. I don’t think anyone mentions it, it’s just there, so we can ourselves deduce the house-proud reason for it.

The set exudes a homey warmth, enhanced by attractive lighting (Garry Keirle) with glowing lamps. Maryanne Wright-Smyth’s costumes bring a reminiscent chuckle and a few memories that are perhaps better buried (the turquoise pants?!).

The staging is exemplary: I am impressed, for instance, by the skilful way Hendry has maintained sightlines while seating the actors on all sides of the dining table, ingeniously eschewing the necessary but ridiculous convention of leaving the downstage side empty. As might be expected with Italian characters, the food scenes are fundamental, and effectively carried out. The audience appears to be salivating.

In the role of Nick, object of his grandparents’ loving care, Byron Coll (though looking a bit too similar to his TV alter-ego, All Black fan Tim) successfully charms the audience with an amusing New Jersey accent, and his own brand of physical humour – I love his manic little hop-skips of frustration – his climactic burst of song and his engaging direct address to the audience. New Zealand actors are particularly adept at breaking the fourth wall, which is all to the good as each character in Over the River has their own special moment to confide their story.

The grandparents are lovingly fleshed out by four of New Zealand’s most experienced professionals, whose generosity towards each other as actors underlines the themes of the play. Hendry, who followed in the footsteps of Fortune co-founder Murray Hutchinson as director of acting at Unitec, must surely have found this the dream cast to direct: a master class in acting technique. 

As I recently heard an authority on Shakespearean theatre assert, there should be little difference for an actor in playing tragedy or comedy. Here are actors who would scorn to milk a laugh or wallow in misery, and consequently succeed in being alternately hilarious and heart-breaking.  Much of the humour is predictable, in that the generational confusions and battles are utterly familiar to us, but in such expert hands that is no disadvantage. We revel in the cheerful faux pas that horrify Nick.

Steven Ray as Frank has wandered onto the set, and is convincingly inhabiting it, before the play officially begins. He maintains this gentle credibility throughout, whether entertainingly grumbling his way through the indignity of being forced to give up driving, or revealing his heartache over being exiled from Italy by his father.

As his wife Aida, Jane Waddell is gorgeous, loveable even when ruthlessly organising the lives of her nearest and dearest, delightfully maddening as she shows she cares by forcing food on her grandson (“You look hungry!”), shooting a saucy look at us as she raises the window a bare inch in response to his desperate plea for cooler air. Maybe I shed a surreptitious tear when she confides the joy of being needed. 

Nunzio, the other grandfather, is played by local icon Simon O’Connor, who with polished ease shifts smoothly from jocularity (the audience loves his tongue-in-cheek “We’re old! We’re adorable!”) to a touchingly quiet revelation of the secret he is concealing even from the wife he loves.

Karen Elliot is funny and sympathetic as his wife, Emma, joining O’Connor in establishing a sweet familiarity and interdependence. In one beautiful moment, the two couples simultaneously reach to touch and physically comfort their partners. The audience is quite in love with them all by the time they are singing and dancing, “Yessir, that’s my baby!” 

As a quartet they talk over each other and finish each other’s sentences, the timing, as both actors and characters, spot-on, especially when poor Nick is desperately trying to break his news.  A highlight of the play is the oldies’ brilliantly funny game of Trivial Pursuit, in which they are quite satisfied with answers like “the one with the ears” because they are absolutely in harmony with each other. I don’t know why it doesn’t occur to them that they are themselves a family – who needs Nick, anyway?

Which is doubtless why the audience empathises when Caitlin, the girl his grandparents hope will give him reason to stay, cannot understand why Nick is so brusque with his well-meaning but smothering relatives. Caitlin, acted with intelligence and winsome grace by Nadya Shaw Bennett (2016’s Outstanding Female Performer*), has lost her own grandparents and truly appreciates the comfort of an extended family. 

That is why Over the River is such a pleasure, apart of course from the impeccable performances. It is that this joyful portrait of intimate family life, a nostalgic tribute to his own family by playwright Joe DiPietro, is something we all want to be part of ourselves. Whether you do or do not have a loving family waiting over the river and through the woods, come join the celebration, and though you’ll miss the mouth-watering Italian food served tonight by fabulous Food Fusion Design, I’m convinced you can hunt down some rich lasagne and delicate tiramisu if you do but try! 
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*It couldn’t have happened in the 1990s: by the end of interval this Facebook entry has appeared: “If I were lucky enough to have my grandparents set me up with Nadya Shaw Bennett, I’d be a bit more thankful than the protagonist!”


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