Familiar words to anyone growing up in an Italian family. “Mangia! Mangia!” “Eat! Eat!” Members of a classic Italian family are the main characters in “Over the River and Through the Woods,” being presented by Coastal Repertory Theatre in Half Moon Bay from June 6 through June 28.
Written by Joe DiPietri, the delightful comedy premiered off-Broadway in 1998. While the author’s own grandparents are models for some of the show’s characters, the story is fictional.
The protagonist is 29-year-old Nick Christano, a single Italian-American guy from New Jersey who struggles over leaving his four grandparents to take a job promotion across the country. He asks himself, “How much do you owe those who care for you? How can you repay people for their devotion? Can it ever be enough?”
The older generation, Frank, Aida, Nunzio and Emma, isn’t shy with comments about his lifestyle, they set him up on dates and constantly beg him to eat. Still, he’s torn up about making a decision to leave.
Being of Italian descent, Dominic Falletti, who portrays Nick, feels the play has an eerie familiarity. He says, “I feel these emotions since I moved away from my family.”
He describes Nick as a very gentle person not wanting to hurt those close to him. As he learns more about his grandparents, their backgrounds, their emotions and feelings, “he realizes how much of each of these characters he has in himself,” Falletti says.
Gina Guistino, who has acted throughout the Bay Area, is playing Grandma Aida for the second time in this production.
She says, “I know this character, I grew up with these people in the Italian community in San Francisco, and I understand them totally. Grandma Aida reminds me of my grandmother and aunts. Their main focus in life is family and food. I also realize that there are people in every family like this character, regardless of their ethnicity or backgrounds. The audience will recognize these people in their own families.”
John Martin clearly identifies with Grandfather Frank, since he is also a grandparent and of Italian descent. He says, “Growing up in Brooklyn we had a very close family. My wife in the show (Aida) is exactly like my mother. Frank, who came here at age 14, is a hard-working man who considers family values the most important part of life.”
Director Paul Anable, who calls the play funny and moving, says, “I want to see it realistically performed so the audience will realize that they remember people like this family. Today we all experience our families being dispersed. They evolve, change and lead their own lives, often far away. This play is definitely contemporary, showing how the family must adjust to their situation.”
Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 to $30. The theater is at 1167 Main St. Call (650) 569-3266 or visit www.coastalrep.com.