LEWISTON – From beginning to end, “Over the River and Through the Woods” is a totally enjoyable play.

It’s the season-ending production for The Public Theatre, and the feel-good buzz on Friday’s opening night followed the crowd right to the parking lot and beyond.

Four warm and wonderful senior citizens and their confused grandson are the principal ingredients for this delightful concoction. Under the direction of Janet Mitchko, it’s like everybody’s favorite comfort food on an all-you-can-eat menu.

Does this sound like food may have something to do with it?

It does. Lots of food.

The Sunday dinner routine of Nick’s Italian-American grandparents provides the means for cooking up a well-intentioned scheme. They just want to keep their grandson from leaving New Jersey for a new job in Seattle.

Almost from the first words of Joe DiPietro’s heartwarming script, there is a steady roll of chuckles and laughs from the audience. There are some serious moments, but even these come through with optimism and life-affirming honesty.

Brian Hoffman portrays Nick, the young man with understandable ambitions who wouldn’t hurt his grandparents for anything in the world. Hoffman appeared in past TPT productions, including “Red Herring.”

We have no trouble believing Nick’s sincere love for the old folks he can’t really understand. Hoffman gives us a realistic interpretation of an honorable member of today’s younger generation.

Despite the dinner fiasco following their ill-advised blind date set-up, the grandparents keep working on plots to keep Nick near them.

As the play unfolds, each grandparent is seen to have a special contribution for Nick’s family heritage. Frank, his maternal grandfather, played by Michael G. Dell’Orto, reveals an unexpected soft side to the harsh memories of his own father.

As Aida, Frank’s wife, Andrea Gallo is the one who exemplifies the show’s three Fs – family, faith and food. Her mantra is, “Who’s hungry?”

Bill Van Horn and Carole Schweid play Nunzio and Emma, Nick’s paternal grandparents. Their joie de vivre (or whatever the Italian equivalent may be) is infectious.

Although it’s Van Horn’s first appearance on the TPT stage, he is known for shows at The Theatre at Monmouth. Schweid has a long list of credits from Broadway to the Internet. As Emma and Nunzio, they show Nick that families grow through strength in adversity, though Nick doesn’t know it for some time to come.

Sarah Koestner plays Caitlin, Nick’s blind date for the evening. She was last seen at TPT in the 2006 production of “A Month of Sundays.”

Koestner brings heart and quiet humor to Caitlin, a modern career woman with both feet on the ground.

One of the play’s highlights is a hilarious game of Trivial Pursuit. Rules are secondary. Everyone of an age when memory is sometimes hit-or-miss will recognize the circuitous routes often taken to dredge up deep-buried facts. It’s a very funny scene.

At the end of the opening-night performance, audience members came to their feet instantly and as a single body. The cast took several well-deserved bows.

All of the above is the good news. There may be bad news for those who want to catch “Over the River …” in the remaining shows May 8-11. Word-of-mouth reports will probably mean quick sellouts at The Public Theatre. But an additional Saturday matinee has been added for May 10.

Go and do

WHAT: “Over the River and Through the Woods”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 8-10; and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 10-11

WHERE: The Public Theatre at Lisbon and Maple streets, Lewiston

TICKETS: $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and students,and $14 for groups of 10 or more. Call 782-3200.


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