The great thing about being an American is you can move two thousand miles from family and still be in the same country.
Kristin and I went to see the play Over the River and Through the Woods last night at the Taproot Theatre in Seattle. It's about a young Italian man named Nicholas who lives alone in New Jersey -- his parents are in Florida and his sister in San Diego -- yet remains very close to both sets of grandparents. He joins them every Sunday, without fail, for dinner. They are a very traditional pair of Italian couples; they are first-generation immigrants who retain much of the customs of the "old country" and believe that the only measure of a good life is being able to marry, have kids, and provide food and shelter for them without dropping dead in the process.
Nicholas is the only member of the family who has stayed close by and is all that keeps them from feeling cast aside and forgotten. Nicholas just received an incredible promotion at work, but it requires that he relocate to Seattle.
Over the River and Through the Woods is a fantastic two-act play that evokes a wide range of emotions. The first act is laugh-out-loud funny. The actors playing the roles of the grandparents did a marvelous job of aging for the parts, but of also capturing the idiosyncracies of easily-distracted doting grandparents. Always with the food. The two grandmothers were like watching an aged version of my own mother. I can't tell you how many times Kristin and I looked at each other laughing uncontrollably, and commenting between the hearty fits of laughing that it was like watching my mother.
Photo from the Seattle Times, Erik Stuhaug
Case in point: Nicholas finally manages to corral the four grandparents into sitting down so he can make his big announcement and just as he's about to begin one of the grandmothers jumps off the couch, realizing she forgot the coffee cake in the other room. And before Nicholas can try and get her to sit back down for two minutes, she hurries off into the kitchen and the topic is switched yet again. This is but one example of dozens in which it was like watching my mother on stage. There were many other moments that reminded us of Kristin's grandmother. These moments usually involved one of the grandmother's making a rather offensive comment about someone's appearance or what they eat. Of course the grandmothers -- fictional and real -- don't realize how inappropriate those remarks are, and that's what makes them so funny.
Naturally, the grandparents don't take the news well. At first they think Seattle is "by the shore off of Exit 94" (that would be the town of Seaside, but close enough gramps) then they realize it's in Washington "and not the close-by Washington, the one near California." But rather than try to guilt him into staying, they instead try to fix him up with the neice of a friend and invite her to join them next Sunday for dinner. Hilarity ensues.
The second act was not nearly as funny for us, as it hits a little close to home. Nicholas was still trying to get everyone to understand why he was leaving and why it was good for him, but the pain he was causing his family brought tears to the eye. I can tell you from first-hand experience, it's not easy to explain to your family that you're moving 3000 miles away, especially to a mother who lives in a house 10 minutes from the one she grew up in and whose only time travelling more than a couple hours from home was to visit her son (me) in North Carolina, where I lived before moving to Washington.
Rather than risk spoiling any of the other developments for those who get a chance to see the play or read the script, I'll just say that there are some other trying moments in the second act that are pretty emotional. The actors at the Taproot have once again done a fantastic job, and this is easily one of the best plays we've seen in the few years we've had our season tickets. I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you've ever done a similar move or had family move away from you.
The play is running through June 14th so hurry over and see it, it's definitely worth it. But don't take my word for it, check out the review at the Seattle Times.
And if you live elsewhere and want to read the script instead, you can get a copy pretty cheaply right here.