REVIEW: Greenville Little Theatre Serves Up Hearty Comfort Comedy

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Photo by Escobar Photgraphy & Ryan Bradburn

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Children and grandchildren of immigrants and Depression babies can uniquely relate to the stark contrast between successive generations. Not so much the political or social norms that progress with age, but the minutia of day-to-day existence and expectations.

Greenville Little Theatre’s second production this season mines those familial ties that both bind us to our past and alter our trajectory. “Over the River and Through the Woods” is a wholesome, endearing comedy that examines a young bachelor’s efforts to his carve his own path while his Italian grandparents – all four of them – innocently scheme to maintain their traditional Sunday dinner and the status quo.

Cory Granner, resident actor and lighting designer now in his seventh year at GLT, is Nick Cristano, a rising marketing executive who is on the verge of a major promotion. The only catch is that he would have to move across the country to Seattle, far from the smothering, bountiful arms of both his maternal and paternal elders in New Jersey, who are peculiarly enough best friends and in-laws.

And it doesn’t hurt to have four GLT stalwarts as his cast mates, including his real-life mother and in-demand scenic designer Kim Granner in their first on-stage appearance in 25 years.

The petite Ms. Granner, in frothy shades of Sophia Petrillo of “The Golden Girls” (and her sister played by the late Nancy Walker), plays Aida Gianelli, whose solution to every problem is instinctively a home-made Italian dish.

Jerry Witty, last seen in “Miracle on 34th Street,” is the full-blooded Italian immigrant sent to America at 14 years old who at his advanced age, now poses a risk to Garden State highways due to his declining driving skills.

Nick’s father’s folks Nunzio and Emma Cristano, now in the 60th year of blissful marriage, are played by the always-delightful Beth Munson (in gigantic eyeglasses) as the matchmaking nan and a feisty Rod McClendon, whose character doesn’t exactly know what a marketing position entails but is proud of his grandson nonetheless.

This quartet of veteran actors provide nonstop one-liners (“You know the air conditioner doesn’t go on until July 4th!”) and gags (opening the window about to inches to lower the temperature in their  sweltering home) and interact like lifelong friends in the wackiest game of Trivial Pursuit ever played, as they write their own rules much to the Nick’s chagrin

With his boyish deadpan Matthew Broderick charm, Granner effortlessly elicits homespun empathy and plenty of laughs from a willing audience, with just the slightest gaze from his big brown doe eyes that just scream, “Help me!”

And rounding out the cast in new GLT resident actor Jamie Ann Walters, who makes her Mainstage debut as a blind date that the grandparents set up for Nick upon learning of his potential departure to the West Coast

Astutely directed by Executive Artistic Director Allen McCalla, this autobiographical play is by Joe DiPietro, best known for the Tony Award-winning musical “Memphis” as well the off-Broadway smash “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and another hit at this very theatre two seasons ago, the Elvis Presley jukebox musical “All Shook Up.”

Its title is derived from the song and poem “Over the river, and through the wood, to Grandmother’s house we go” and this work is a winsome, sentimental work that is certain to please GLT patrons.

Suzanne McCalla is set designer, Barbara Rupp is Stage Manager, Mackenzie Smith is Assistant State Manager, Cory Granner is Sound Designer, Thomas Brooks is Costume Designer, Graham Schaffer is Technical Director and Larry Hyder is Production Designer.

“Over the River and Through the Woods” continues Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through November 12 at Greenville Little Theatre, 444 College St. in Greenville. For tickets, call (864) 233-6238 or visit www.greenvillelittletheatre.org.

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