Rita Thomas, J.R. Stuart, Cary Wiger, Tina Jo Wallace, & Brian Bowman (front). Photo: Derby Dinner Playhouse.

Over The River & Through The Woods

By Joe DiPietro
Directed by Jim Hesselman

Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley

Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.

One thing I’ve come to expect, having seen so many shows at Derby Dinner, is that if they’re not putting on a big musical, or the occasional mystery, then what they really love to do is screwball, door-slamming farces. Most every comedy I’ve seen performed there is done at a breakneck pace, full of exhausting misunderstandings and complications and characters running on and off stage in a frenzy.

I assumed that was what I was getting when I attended their latest, Joe DiPietro’s Over the River and Through the Woods. I was wrong. DiPietro’s script has something a lot of those slapstick comedies don’t: genuine heart. At turns funny and moving, it’s a nice change of pace for the company.

The story is about an Italian-American family, specifically Nick (Brian Bowman) and his relationship with his four grandparents. When he informs them he’s taking a job across the country, they spend the course of the play trying to prevent him from going. At one point they even attempt to set him up with a young acquaintance of theirs, the lovely (and Irish) Caitlin (Katelyn Webb), but things, of course, don’t go as planned.

As primed for laugh-out-loud hijinks as that plot sounds (and it doesn’t disappoint in that area), the show takes time to consider serious themes, such as how we deal with aging loved ones, including and up to failing health and death. All of this is handled with truthful performances that never stoop to cheap Italian stereotypes.

The cast is amazing, peopled by familiar Derby Dinner faces at the top of their game. As the maternal grandparents, J.R. Stuart and Rita Thomas are the standouts, mining much humor out of a grandfather that needs to give up driving and a grandmother that wants everyone eating, all the time. They’re just a delight!

As the paternal grandparents, Cary Wiger and Tina Jo Wallace are only slightly less comical, with a bit more of a dramatic push than the others; we find out early that, unbeknownst to his family, he is losing a battle with cancer. Wallace, on the other hand, gets a lot of humor out of constantly offering mass cards to Nick (meaning her Catholic congregation will be praying for him).

As the potential love interest, Webb is charming but she really isn’t given much to do. As the central character Nick, Bowman gives a workmanlike performance that serves the plot, but he’s overshadowed by the bigger personalities on display.

Director Jim Hesselman gives the show a leisurely pace that fits the mood, never letting the actors rush a moment or allowing the action to falter. DiPietro’s script is very well written but could have used a bit of tightening towards the end.

As usual for a DDP production, the technical aspects are top-notch. Ron Riall’s homey set is just gorgeous, illuminated nicely by Andrew Duff’s soft lighting design.

Overall, this was a lovely production and an unexpected change of pace for the playhouse. This would be a perfect introductory piece if you’ve never seen a show there, and another one to love if you’re a regular!

Starring Brian Bowman, J.R. Stuart, Rita Thomas, Tina Jo Wallace, Katelyn Webb, and Cary Wiger

Over The River & Through The Woods

May 30 – July 8, 2018

Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
(812) 288-8281


Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director, and producer for more than 14 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006 and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.