Theater Review

Port Tobacco Players Present a Poignant Family Tale

From left are Mike Margelos as Frank Gianelli, Kim Bessler as Aida Gianelli, Darren Longley as Nick Cristano, Marina Sanchez as Caitlin O'Hare, John Kirby as Nunzio Cristano and Lynne Bouchard as Emma Cristano. All gave strong performances in the Port Tobacco Players'
From left are Mike Margelos as Frank Gianelli, Kim Bessler as Aida Gianelli, Darren Longley as Nick Cristano, Marina Sanchez as Caitlin O'Hare, John Kirby as Nunzio Cristano and Lynne Bouchard as Emma Cristano. All gave strong performances in the Port Tobacco Players' "Over the River and Through the Woods." (Photos By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Lynn Follmer Thorne
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Port Tobacco Players have a hit with their latest production, "Over the River and Through the Woods." The play makes the audience reflect on what it means to be loved -- and driven crazy -- by family.

The show is set in present-day Hoboken, N.J. Nick is the lone member of his immediate family who lives near his grandparents, and he faithfully visits with both sets of them for Sunday dinner every week. When he is offered a promotion that would require him to relocate to Seattle, he must face the difficult decision of whether to stay near his grandparents or move and start his own life.

The cast is strong all around. Darren Longley plays Nick with a balance of insightfulness and insecurity. Longley clearly portrays Nick weighing his love for his grandparents against his desire to become his own person. His character seems to mature before the audience's eyes.

In his role as Nunzio, one of Nick's grandfathers, John Kirby's performance is on the money. He is passionate, loud and funny -- yet sympathetic. He offers a beautifully nuanced portrayal of the grandfather coming to terms with the fact that his grandson has, indeed, become a man.

Lynne Bouchard and especially Kim Bessler are wonderful fun as Nick's doting grandmothers, piling on just the right amount of guilt and devotion. We don't see much of Marina Sanchez as Caitlin, an eligible woman invited to dinner in an attempt to persuade Nick to stay, but she does a nice job with her small, yet significant, role.

The standout is Mike Margelos as Frank. As Nick's other grandfather, he runs the gamut of emotions. His brief moment onstage in his boxers and knee socks (with plenty of chest hair sticking out of his undershirt) nearly brings down the house. His captivating and poignant monologue puts the audience in the palm of his hand. It's a can't-miss performance.

One criticism: The actors' accents are inconsistent. Most of the actors are guilty of dropping in and out of whichever accent they use (Italian and New Jersey) at some point or another. It's a small, but noticeable, flaw.

Technically, this is a fairly sound production. A few lighting and sound glitches on opening night did not detract. Music seemed to come in from out of nowhere; that problem could be fixed easily by having an actor simply turn on a record player or radio as part of the stage action.

A few small details in the lobby added a nice touch. From singing ushers dressed in costume to authentic biscotti provided at intermission, it's clear the Port Tobacco Players have tried hard to think of ways to enhance the experience. Director Lisa Kay Morton should be proud.

"Over the River and Through the Woods" runs through next weekend. Show times are 3 p.m. today and next Sunday, and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Performances are at the Port Tobacco Players Theater, 508 E. Charles St., La Plata. General admission, $15; students and seniors, $12. For more information or reservations, call 301-932-6819.


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