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Collective bargaining on family values

A grandson's relocation is the catalyst for relatives' ruminations on the American dream.

January 31, 2006|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

At his weekly Sunday dinner with both sets of Italian American Catholic grandparents, a young man tries to quiet the four of them long enough to make an important announcement.

"He's getting married!" one grandmother guesses.

"I'm not getting married," the young man, named Nick, irritably rejoins.

"Why not?" a grandfather shoots back.

"Look, can we save that argument for the holidays, when we always have it?" Nick responds.

The early minutes of "Over the River and Through the Woods" prepare the audience for a zippy comedy about yet another person driven over the edge by a well-meaning but smothering family. Yet as Joe DiPietro's play progresses, it veers from expected outcomes, deepening all the while into a meditation on the current state of America's dreams.

A McCoy Rigby presentation at La Mirada Theatre reunites several key talents from the 1998 off-Broadway production: director Joel Bishoff, set and lighting designer Neil Peter Jampolis and performer Marie Lillo. It's an easily likable effort, grounded in comfortably inhabited portrayals, perceptive yet understated direction and gently insistent writing by the co-creator of "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."

Working-class grandfathers Frank (S. Marc Jordan) and Nunzio (John Capodice) are strong-willed and occasionally brusque, yet quietly intuitive. Respective nanas Aida (Annie Abbott) and Emma (Lillo) are lively and expressive, tending to blurt whatever's on their minds. Early on, Nick (Daniel Tatar) describes the four of them as firm believers in "the three Fs of life: family, faith and food." He respects those principles, though by remaining unmarried at 29, he deviates from the path expected of him. Then he announces a job promotion that will relocate him across the country, and his grandparents' concern turns to full-on consternation.

Frank and Aida's Hoboken, N.J., home, with its comfortable if mismatched furnishings, is a quintessentially American setting for the little speech that frames this story in a broader context. "You spend so much time worrying about so much -- your job, where you live, what it means," nana Emma tells Nick. "You just expect too much." Marriage and children defined "a good life" for her generation, she explains, and parents worked hard to give their children every advantage. But with families torn apart as everyone chases a dream to the far reaches of the continent, Emma is left to wonder: "Did we make a better life for you?"

Past commentary has tended to dismiss this play as a minestrone soup of sentiment, but Emma's question follows theatergoers out the door and hops in the backseat for the ride home.


`Over the River and Through the Woods'

Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Feb. 12

Price: $32 and $40

Contact: (562) 944-9801 or

Running time: 2 hours

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