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Family values, ties pull heartstrings at St. Vincent production

| Tuesday, June 14, 2016, 9:00 p.m.
St. Vincent Summer Theatre's 'Over the River and Through the Woods' features (from left) Steve Greenstein, Gael Schaefer, Ronald Siebert and Cary Anne Spear. Standing are Patrick Cannon  and Jenny Malarkey
St. Vincent Summer Theatre
St. Vincent Summer Theatre's 'Over the River and Through the Woods' features (from left) Steve Greenstein, Gael Schaefer, Ronald Siebert and Cary Anne Spear. Standing are Patrick Cannon and Jenny Malarkey

An ambitious young man must choose between his career aspirations and family loyalty in the warm-hearted comedy “Over the River and Through the Woods.” The play is the latest offering from St. Vincent Summer Theatre in Unity.

Every week, Italian-American marketing executive Nick Cristano, 29, joins his four immigrant grandparents for their traditional Sunday dinner in Hoboken, N.J. Nick is their only descendent left in the area, and he receives their full attention, whether he wants it or not. When he is offered his dream job in Seattle, his grandparents hatch a plot to keep him in town. The centerpiece of this plot is Caitlin O'Hare, an attractive young woman they invite to dinner. Caitlin catches Nick's eye, but will it be enough to make him change his plans?

“People will see their families and grandparents in the characters, both in the humor and in the more touching moments,” director Greggory Brandt says.

Brandt has set the show in the 1980s, but the story could take place at any time. “Society changes and time changes, but family is still No. 1,” he says. “No matter how busy life becomes, family still matters. That's why I picked the play and love the play.”

Patrick Cannon has the lead role of Nick. The play begins as Nick finds out he has earned the promotion that will take him far away from his grandparents. His feelings are mixed as he goes to see them midweek to tell them that he will not be at the family's Sunday dinner.

Nick's situation is one that many Western Pennsylvanians — including Cannon — can relate to. “There is a universal quality to the story that transcends those particular people,” Cannon says. “A lot of the laughs are rooted in the relatability. The audience will see their family in this family.”

Nick's paternal grandmother, Emma Cristano, is played by Cary Anne Spear. “Emma and Nunzio are active and vibrant and trying hard to be with it and enjoying the heck out of life,” Spear says. Even so, they remain grounded in their Italian traditions.

Spear acted in another production of the play 15 years ago and says that if she had to pick only one play to be in for the rest of her life, it would be this one. “It was as if you took the whole audience to Lourdes, because of how gratified and fulfilled they were,” she says.

Steve Greenstein is cast as grandfather Frank Gianelli. Greenstein grew up in an immigrant neighborhood in the Bronx and brings that experience to his characterization of Frank as a devoted family man. “These people are still very much alive in our country,” he says.

Greenstein hopes that young adults will come to see the show. “They'll understand themselves better, they'll understand the American Dream better, and they'll understand their grandparents better,” he says.

The production also features Gael Schaefer as Aida Gianelli, Ronald H. Siebert as Nunzio Cristano and Jenny Malarkey as Caitlin O'Hare.

Cynthia Helzel is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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