Venturing into familial territory isn’t uncommon for the theater stage. “Over the River and Through the Woods” by Joe DiPietro is a production showing the inner workings of an Italian-American community and family. The plot follows Nick, an Italian-American from New Jersey, who is devoted to visiting both sets of grandparents every Sunday for dinner. Though he can be annoying, his grandparents are the only family Nick has and they love him to a fault. So when he is offered his dream job—one that will take him away from Jersey—Nick’s grandparents do what any good, overbearing, loving, family does: They try to set him up with the love of his life, in his hometown, in order to anchor him.
A family comedy, by Big Dawg Productions will debut “Over the River and Through the Woods” at Cape Fear Playhouse this week. Director Laurene Perry has been in theater since she was 6 years old, and has held down every job from producing to directing to acting, and even set building and lighting. Since moving to Wilmington from New York in 2004, she’s directed 11 shows for Thalian Association, with her last being “Big River” and a co-direction of “Wonderful Town” in 2015.
“I became acquainted with [“Over the River and Through the Woods”] after seeing it twice when it ran off Broadway,” Perry says. “Then in 2006 I directed it for Thalian Association on the main stage at Thalian Hall.”
encore caught up with Perry last week about her experience with the production this go ‘round.
encore (e): “OTRATTW” is part of Joe DiPietro’s early playwright career, before his musical hits “All Shook Up” and “Memphis.” Tell me what surprised you most in reading the script of the play.
Laurene Perry (LP): What surprised me when I first saw this play is how universal it is. Sure, it’s an Italian family, but it could, and is, anyone.
e: How would you say the play impacted you?
LP: The essence of it reflects my own family history. It memorializes my parents, and theirs. The customs and traditions of this family resonate with my own memories. Family dinners were always where we discussed all things, both good and bad. We would cover the events of the day, plans for the future, both far and near, and interpersonal relationships while passing the ravioli!
e: What do you love most about this story? Least?
LP: The characters are a wonderful weave of love and tears and laughter. I love their realism. I also love the food! There really isn’t anything I don’t like about it.
e: What will resonate with folks most per this subject matter, regardless of ethnicity?
LP: Tengo famiglia! As Frank so perfectly explains it, “I have a family. I am doing well for my wife and my children. I have a reason for being alive.”
e: Who is playing whom in the show? Tell me a little about the characters and how the cast is impressing you in their roles?
LP: First, I must mention that Christina Brown and Irene Slater are reprising their roles as Emma and Aida, having done them for me 10 years ago. They have known these characters intimately for all that time, and in those years, their understanding and portrayals have aged and deepened like fine wine. It’s wonderful to watch!
Craig Meyers and Skip Maloney are Nunzio and Frank. They have taken these characters and molded them to become both realistic and a reflection of themselves. Their take on who they are, both past and present, is enlightening.
Our Nicholas is Kenny Rosander. His exuberance and comic timing give Nick an energetic, youthful appeal that I love to watch. Nick’s love interest, Caitlin, is Beth Corvino. Beth is just the right mix of young, pretty and quirky to make Caitlin the girl that could keep Nick in New Jersey.
e: Who do you identify with most in the play and why?
LP: I would like to think I am most like Emma. I’d like to think of myself as a “doer” who doesn’t sit back and let life pass me by.
e: What is the set concept? What’s the world like for the audience?
LP: Lights and set design kudos go to Scott Davis. He has built a realistic set that immediately takes us to the mid ‘80s in suburban New Jersey. It screams of working-class values and centers around the family dining room table. His use of color, texture and fabric all harken back to the period, and paint the picture of people whose family is primary in their lives. The music has been specifically chosen to reflect the time and the place. Listening to just one or two pieces helps to set the scene for what is about to come.
e: What’s been the most challenging part in directing this? What have you learned of yourself as a director in undergoing it?
LP: To get past the melancholy. Both the wonderful actors who played Frank and Nunzio with us in 2006, Donn Ansell and Frank Capasso, have passed. They are dearly missed, not only as actors, but as friends. When we first read the play, I heard their parts in their voices. Craig and Skip have made new characters of them and helped us to celebrate the memory and hear these characters with new ears.