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Stories of family and food

November seems like the perfect time for a story about family, faith and food – Thanksgiving leads into Remembrance Day and then the big one: Christmas. Into the mix comes Over the River and Through the Woods, the latest production from the Elmira Theatre Company.

Family, with all its ups and downs, is the thread that runs through the heartwarming comedy by Joe DiPietro, opening Nov. 11. Even more fittingly, it’s ETC’s dinner theatre.

In Over the River and Through the Woods, the audience is taken on a sweet and sentimental journey to a home in Hoboken, New Jersey. There we meet a tight-knit Italian-American family, with a story revolving around Nick Christano, a 29-year old marketing executive who dutifully visits his four grandparents every Sunday for dinners.

One Sunday he has an exciting, though devastating announcement: He’s being promoted to a new position in Seattle. As Nick (played by Shayne Coffin) is their only relative left in the area, the prospect of losing him sees the grandparents pull out all the stops to prevent his departure.

The result is a timeless tale of young people looking for change and an older group trying to hold on to the way things were, says the play’s director.

“You have a young person that’s ready to leave home, and two sets of grandparents that want to keep him there,” said Rita Huschka. “This is something that we all go through – it’s a universal story.”

The familiar themes resonate with audiences, she added. DiPietro has been compared to Neil Simon, in that his plays are very much character-driven, mixing all the elements of real human relationships.

CHANGE IS IN THE AIR Tracy Leighton (left), who plays the role of Caitlin O’Hare, explains what a vegetarian is – and why she can’t eat the veal.

“It’s a story about people. Nothing blows up other than a character or two,” she laughed. “It’s funny. It’s poignant. It all has to do with family, food and faith.”

DiPietro, winner of two Tony Awards in 2010 for Memphis, has been prolific, penning more than a dozen stories in the past 15 or so years. He is best known for his witty musical I Love You! You’re Perfect! Now Change! and Over the River and Through the Woods, which have both been long running hits off-Broadway in New York.

The autobiographical nature of some of the material is reminiscent of Simon. For Over the River and Through the Woods, the writer, who grew up in New Jersey, has said the characters are based loosely on his own four grandparents, although the plot is completely fictional.

“The biggest difference between these generations is their concept of family and home. They believed that the family was central, and work is something you just do to provide for them. For our generation, it’s a lot more complicated,” he’s been quoted as saying of the dynamics behind this play.

Although set in New Jersey, the story could easily be anywhere at any time, said Huschka. The play is staged accordingly.

The Elmira Theatre Company production of Over the River and Through the Woods runs Nov. 11-14, Nov. 19-21, and Nov. 26-28 at 76 Howard Ave. Show times are 7 p.m., except Sundays (5 p.m.) and Thursday (8 p.m.). Tickets are $48 for dinner shows, $18 for the show only, available at the Centre in the Square box office in Kitchener by calling 578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977, online at www.centre-square.com.

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Seven days. One newsletter. Local reporting about people and places you
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