This month at the Plaza Playhouse Theater, director Jordana Lawrence takes on the generation gap with Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods. The production explores the bonds of familial relationships, specifically those between grandparents and their grandchildren.
DiPietro’s play features a tight-knit Italian-American family in New Jersey: four grandparents and their grandson, Nick. This close connection to family is an essential aspect of these characters’ lifestyles — Nick sees his grandparents every Sunday to share a meal. Yet as life moves forward, it becomes clear that their cheerful ritual cannot continue forever. Nick lands a job as a marketing executive across the country, and he’s ecstatic for the next big step in his life, but he also knows breaking the news to his grandparents will be challenging. As he feared, his grandparents see Nick’s choice to pursue the career opportunity as a betrayal; an abandonment of the family’s traditional values and a gross mismanagement of his life priorities.
Over the River illustrates how a generation gap is created when the cultural stagnation of one age group interacts with, but cannot progress with, a landscape of constantly evolving social norms. It examines how the new generation’s lack of adherence to antiquated cultural expectations can be a catalyst for misunderstanding and resentment between the old and the young. “When I started prepping for this show,” Lawrence said, “I realized that we have a generation gap now, and probably always will. Every generation brings to the table new ideas and ways to live their lives, and those of us on the other side of the mountain have a hard time understanding the differences. Most can’t. Today’s generation is all about technology, and there are things in this play that touch on that. In this play, the generational gap is between Nick and his grandparents, who can’t understand why he is moving across the country for a job. They never did. Maybe he won’t ever marry. They really can’t wrap their heads around it. That’s what made this play very interesting to me.”
Lawrence sees Over the River as a drama with comedic moments that occur naturally through the quirks of the characters. Often these instances of humor manifest in how the four grandparents manage their emotional responses to Nick’s impending departure. Frank, Aida, Nunzio, and Emma devise a series of devious, albeit harmless, plots to manipulate Nick into staying in town — including an attempt at playing matchmaker. If Nick won’t stay in Jersey for the family, maybe he’ll be more tempted by the attractive woman they invite to dinner. Director Lawrence also appreciates the aspects of the story that are unexpected. “The author didn’t do what I thought,” she admitted of the play’s conclusion. “He didn’t cop out. He made it real.”
Over the River and Through the Woods is a play that’s produced relatively infrequently, so it will be a fresh storytelling experience for most audiences. It demonstrates themes of progress and change within the tight bonds of family and presents a relatable, meaningful tale of growing up and moving away. The play features Gene Garia, Judy Mulford, Enrique A. Bobadilla, Jennifer Marco, Asa Olsson, and Ken Volok.
Over the River and Through the Woods runs July 17-26 at the Plaza Playhouse Theater, 4916 Carpinteria Avenue, Carpinteria. For tickets, call (805) 684-6380 or see plazatheatercarpinteria.com.