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Over the River & Through the Woods

Over the River and Through the Woods

Peoria Players Theatre
 October 7 - 9 & October 13-16
By Douglas E. Love


“Tango Familia,” that was the refrain I thought I heard over and over again in Joe DiPietro’s charming comedy Over the River and Through the Woods which opened to a standing ovation Friday night at Peoria Players Theatre.

And if you would have asked me before the play what I thought “Tango Familia” meant, I might guess something like “the family dance.”  But I’m not very good at foreign language, and I would be wrong.

Because the phrase I kept hearing is actually “Tenga Familia” which translates into something approximating “I have family.”

In Over the River and Through the Woods, it’s Nick Cristano who has family in Hoboken — and, not to confuse you, but they actually do dance.

Nick is a young gun, 29, unmarried, and just received a promotion which will take him from the East Coast to the West Coast, to Seattle actually.

What he perceives to be an unbelievable opportunity, his grandparents, all four of them, can only see it through the context of “Tenga Familia,” which means so much more to the Italian community than just “I have family.”  To them, it’s a way of life, and that way of life is about family — it’s about roots, it’s about identity, it’s about belonging, it’s about relationships and responsibility to the family.

You can never underestimate the lengths family will go through to keep the family together. So when Nick tells his grandparents there’s no reason for him to stay in the area, they fix him up on a blind date hoping he will fall in love and stay.

Over the River and Through the Woods is a delightful show; it is the only non-musical in Peoria Players 2011-2012 season, and the selection committee made an excellent choice with this show.  It is poignant; it’s touching; it’s human; it will make you laugh; and it might just bring a tear to your eye — in a good way.

Besides being a wonderful show, it has an excellent cast.

Peoria theatre legend Mike Dentino heads up the family.  Dentino reprises his role as Nunzio, a role he played 10 years ago when Corn Stock Theatre staged the regional premiere of Over the River and Through the Woods.

As one watches Dentino, one is captivated by Nunzio’s perceived forgetfulness, yet entranced by a quick mind that keeps a rapid pace — Dentino has lost none of his comic timing.

Maureen O’Haenny is delightful as the overbearing, loud, and slightly obnoxious grandmother (Emma, Nunzio’s wife), and fit the stereotype very well.  There were times in the play when her microphone would come off, but because she was so old, it just looked like she was fixing her hearing aid — so no big deal there.

Mark Atkisson and Judy Tilley  played the other set of grandparents, and their characters, the way they were written, largely acquiesce to the more cacophonous and emphatic grandparents.  But without a question they were as solid as a great rhythm section.  And the same could be said of Kerri Rae Hinman, who played Nick’s blind date, Caitlin.

I thought Jarod Hazzard did a very nice job with the role of Nick, because that character has to undergo a transformation during the play from being a jerk (that’s not the word they use in the play) to becoming a more compassionate young man.  And I think he made that transformation very seamless and to appear very real.

This play is sure to make you laugh and even tug on your heartstrings, why not get out and see it!

Directed by Liz Landes Reed, Over the River and Through the Woods continues its run at Peoria Players Theatre on Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday October 16th at 2:00 p.m.  Tickets are $12 for adults and $9 for patrons 18 and under.  Tickets are available through the Peoria Players’ Box Office, by calling 309-688-4473 or online at

Posted October 10, 2011


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