Faith, family, food. Now that’s Italian.
Or Jewish. Or Irish. Or…well, you get the idea. Throw just about any ethnicity together with their faith and their food, you got yourself a comedy in the making.
The play “Over the River and Through the Woods” explores that theme, a funny, intergenerational look at an Italian family presented by Nemasket River Productions at the Alley Theatre in Middleborough April 20-21, 27-28 and May 4-5, with shows starting at 8 p.m.
Written by Joe DiPietro (“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” “The Thing About Men”) the play is about Nick, a single Italian-American from New Jersey, and his desire to move away, which would mean severing the powerfully Italian connection with his two sets of grandparents, who scheme to keep him close.
Thus, as the saying goes, comedy ensues.
“I liked it because it was funny,” said Michael Pevzner of Kingston, the play’s director, retired from a 30-plus year career as a professor and administrator in the theater department of Massasoit Community College in Brockton. “It has a set-up ripe for situation comedy, in which the grandparents try to keep their grandson from moving away. You have a lot of banter and back and forth between the grandparents, all of them unique types, and the methods they use to keep their grandson from leaving are all humorous, including inviting a girl over that one of the grandmothers met in a market.”
The actors playing the grandparents are Albert Rizzotti (Frank) of Berkley; Beth Morrell (Aida) of Randolph; Rolly Blanchette (Nunzio) of Avon; and Jane Cartier (Emma) of West Bridgewater; playing the love interest is Monica Saviolakis (Caitlin) of Taunton, and in the role of Nick, the young grandson his grandparents anguish over, is Joey LaGreca of Plymouth.
“I liked it because it’s very human; it has Neil Simon-type humor with an Italian-American slant,” said Pevzner, a lifelong actor/director with more than 80 plays under his theatrical belt, a graduate of the fabled High School of Performing Arts in New York City, and earner of bachelor and master’s degrees from Emerson College in Boston. “It has this natural and human sentimental edge as we learn more about the grandparents and grandson who needs to go his own way.”
Much centers on Sunday dinners, which in an Italian household means a lot of food, which presents a challenge to actors trying to stay in character and be heard – with mouthfuls of food.
“There’s a lot of eating going on,” Pevzner laughed. “The actors have to sit and talk and eat and laugh.”
“Over the River and Through the Woods” has a bittersweet touch as well, he said. “At the end, it’s a bit of a tear jerker as we learn about the different grandparents and some get sick. It has that sentimental edge.”
Pevzner knew from his teenage years on, growing up in New York City, he wanted to be an actor. He went to the High School of Performing Arts (the basis for the old hit TV show “Fame”), but by the time he graduated, he knew he wasn’t the only person aching to see their name in lights.
“I wasn’t sure I was that good then,” he said. “You’re with a lot of good people, and in NY, I met a lot of unemployed actors. I was seeing the down side of the business rather than coming in from Kansas all fresh faced and excited, which actually may be the better way to do it.”
He acted, and directed after college, and for several years was in a touring band, The Ramblers Three. He laughs, “We never got far, but it was fun.”
After a stint in the Army, he went back to Emerson, got a masters in speech, then a job at Massasoit where he stayed until 2002, and for a couple years after on a part-time basis.
He’s worked with Nemasket River Productions before, as an actor in “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” five years ago, meeting Merrie Mizaras, the producing artistic director, and others involved in the group.
“It’s an interesting space at the Alley Theatre,” Pevzner said of the rather small stage, necessitating minimal use of props, which isn’t easy in a play like “Over the River and Through the Woods” with a cast of six, two sets of rooms and all that food.
“We used to do shows at the auditorium at the town hall, which Merrie would enclose in a black tarp, making it a black-box theater. It was quite nice; you could do three-quarter theater in the round.”
Alley, he said “is much more theatrical than walking into a town hall; they have this beautiful lobby. It’s small but you learn to adapt.”
“Over the River and Through the Woods” is decidedly Italian in flavor, but that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing it.
“It appeals to anyone, really, because at its heart, it’s all about family,” Pevzner said.
For information, visit www.nemasketriverproductions.com or call 866-244-0448.