The young man frets on the stage.
“You people are unbelievable,” he says.
His grandfather is perplexed. “Again with the ‘you people?’”
It is a familiar tale, one filled with humor and heart that is easy to relate to: Priorities differ among the generations even in a close-knit family.
Beginning Friday, Oct. 6, as part of its main-stage season, Theatrikos will feature Hoboken, New Jersey, of the 1990s with “Over the River and Through the Woods” by American playwright Joe DiPietro.
The cast is Rob Peters as Nick Cristano, Kelly Gibbs as Aida Gianelli, Stan Sutherland as Frank Gianelli, Virginia Brown as Emma Cristano, Dean Benforado as Nunzio Cristano and Paige Latendresse as Caitlin O’Hare. The production is co-directed by Mickey Mercer and Amelia Swan.
For Mercer, the lynchpin of the play is the generation gap between Nick and his grandparents.
“Nick is trying to separate from his family, and family is so important to Italian-American families,” Mercer said.
The situation: Nick is the only family member who regularly visits both sets of his grandparents living just doors away from one another. He tells them he has been promoted at work and will be taking a job on the West Coast. They do not want this to happen, and they begin to scheme on how to keep Nick in Hoboken. They want to introduce him to a nice girl to entice him to stay.
Swan said two ideas are in conflict in the play. Family is important, but there is the need for individuals to go into the world and be the person they were meant to be. Most everyone on the planet can relate to such struggle.
Mercer added that the production’s priority is to feature the closeness among family members.
Aida, Nick’s maternal grandmother, is a caretaker.
“She’s selfless and very innocent,” actress Gibbs said. “She’s typical of an Italian family. A nurturer. She’s sheltered and uneducated, but she has a big heart, big as all the outdoors.”
Aida’s husband Frank is a self-made man whose parents bought him to the United States in hopes of a better life.
“The key message in this play, I think, is ‘tengo familia,’” Sutherland, who plays Frank, observed. “The family is a source of strength and support, regardless of generational differences. People don’t change, and although changes in the times and customs can give rise to conflict, the love in a strong family survives such challenges.”
Peters said his character, Nick, is working-class, but he’s made it into the white-collar world. He is happy but conflicted about moving across the country.
“Nick is not blind to the events that surround him, and through them, he gets to better know his grandparents in the process,” Peters said.
Emma is the more outspoken grandparent.
“She speaks her mind, tells it like it is, and I admire her strength,” Brown said. “We know Nick’s leaving, and we’re trying to talk him, con him, into staying. It doesn’t go like we expected.”
Nunzio is the roughest of the grandparents, Benforado said of the role. He was a laborer his whole working life.
“He’s rough around the edges and speaks his mind, but he has a tender side, too, that pops up every once in a while.”
Latendresse is the youngest cast member, and she said she appreciates the wisdom the other cast members bring to the roles and the production. Caitlin, to her, is sensitive, empathetic, and has a tragic history with grandparents.
“She definitely values family and spending time with those you love before it’s too late,” Latendresse said.
“It’s a very family-centered story,” said Michael Rulon, first-time stage manager, adding that the play takes place in a typical home – a living room, dining room and front porch.
Although the play tugs at heart strings, co-director Swan said the audience can expect to laugh.
“It is such a fun play, and you love these characters,” Swan said. “You just want them to be your grandparents. You feel you know these people.”