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Curtain Call
‘Over the River and Through the Woods’ hits home
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Caitlin and Nick (Caitlin O’Grady and Ron Farnham), seated, are respectively bemused and exasperated by the machinations of his paternal grandparents Nunzio and Emma Cristano (Maryann and Henry J. Bardi), left, and maternal grandparents Frank and Aida Gianelli (Jeff Lombardo and Dee Ford).
Familiar familial foibles provide plenty of laughs and a tender moment or two at the St. Petersburg Little Theatre’s production of Joe DiPietro’s “Over the River and Through the Woods.”

Just in time for the opening of the holiday season, “Over the River” presents the “three F’s of life: Family, Faith, and Food” foisted in abundance (whether he wants them or not) on young Nick Cristano (Ron Farnham) by his four grandparents.

Nick’s parents have long since escaped to Fort Lauderdale as has his sister to San Diego leaving him the sole repository of his grandparents’ love, lasagna, and lessons on life.

Every Sunday he faithfully – if resignedly – leaves his New York single-guy-on-his-way-up-lifestyle and returns to his maternal grandparents’ home in Hoboken, N.J., where things haven’t changed much over the last couple of decades.

Paternal grandparents Nunzio and Emma Cristano (Henry J. and Maryann Bardi) join Frank and Aida Gianelli (Jeff Lombardo and Dee Ford) in loudly reminiscing over what are to Nick embarrassing details of his growing up years and hinting broadly at their hopes to see a new generation of Cristano’s.

So when Nick announces he’s been offered a promotion that will take him across the country to Seattle, the grandparents are anything but subtle in their plans to entice him to stay. They even produce an also single Caitlin O’Hare (Caitlin O’Grady) at the next Sunday dinner.

What could be predictable and hackneyed becomes a gentle exploration of the ties that bind as both generations struggle to understand the other.

“So did we make a better life for you?” the grandparents ask at one point as they compare their close-knit communities of not so long ago with modern commuter romances and great grandchildren that are seen only occasionally. One wonders.

Told in lively, humorous scenes interspersed with stop-action soliloquies, the production was a bit slow getting started but soon hit its stride and never looked back.

As Florida’s oldest continuously operating community theater, SPLT is celebrating its 81st year of offering the community not just the chance to see a variety of plays and musicals but also the opportunity to participate in bringing a story to life. From making sets to working backstage to acting onstage, volunteers are the heart of community theater.

Which doesn’t mean that the productions are amateurish. The presentation was a sophisticated rendition – Farnham struck a good balance of alternating between exasperation with and concern for the older generation. The two sets of grandparents were well cast: Henry J. and Maryann Bardi’s loud and robust portrayals of the effusive Cristano’s contrasted nicely with Jeff Lombardo’s sad-eyed philosophical Frank Gianelli and Dee Ford’s compulsive, more genteel Aida. O’Grady’s reactions to the verbal sparring and antics seemed genuinely bemused and spontaneous.

Let’s hear it for families.

“Over the River and Through the Woods” plays through Nov. 20 at the St. Petersburg Little Theatre, 4025 31st St. S. Call 866-2059 or visit
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