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Two types of families in our two top theatres

May, 2009

Over the River and Through the Woods at the Segal features an inter-generational relationship between grandparents – four of them – and their grandson. It was written by Joe DiPietro, author of such award-winning plays as the wonderfully titled I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.

The title of this play comes from a song based on an 1884 poem by Lydia Maria Child anonymously set to music. The second line “to grandfather’s house we go” was apt for this play, the river being the Hudson and the woods New Jersey. A later stanza inserts a second line “to have a first rate play.” How apropos!

The grand daughter has moved to California. Nick, the grandson (Gianpaulo Venuta), is the only blood relative left in New York and he dutifully visits his grandparents for Sunday dinners.

Conveniently, both the paternal and maternal sets are neighbours so we get a lot of jokes about food and family. The Italian phrase “Tengo familigia” becomes the slogan for old-world blue-collar immigrants who love the neighbourhood they made their life in. They are devastated by Nick’s announcement that he is going to Seattle for a career promotion.

Special plaudits go to the fantastic quartet of grandparents, Frank Savino and Deann Mears (a real-life couple) and Bernie Passeltiner and Winnipeg icon Doreen Brownstone.

To the Segal, whose selection is wonderfully eclectic: We Love You, You’re Perfect, Don’t Change.

Over the River and Through the Woods ends May 10 at the Segal Centre, 5170 Côte Ste. Catherine. Call 514-739-7944.

With Bated Breath at the Centaur features fine acting and direction, but deals with broken families and dysfunctional souls.

Writer/codirector Bryden MacDonald’s play is set largely in Cape Breton. Individual musings range from poetic contemplation about cloud formations to sad reflections on missing parents and infantile play with paper bags. While the play is largely built around homosexual urges and male strippers, with three fine male actors – Centaur regular Neil Napier and newcomers Eloi Archambaudoin and Michael Sutherland-Young – the three ladies almost steal the show. Kiss My Cabaret followers in withdrawal mode should run to see Danette Mackay’s return as the booze-influenced chicken-farm owner. Her comedic talents are matched by those of Felicia Shulman as the mean-spirited neighbour. Sarah C. Carlsen’s dreamy character has to play foil to these two powerhouses and she acquits her role well.

The script cleverly juggles flashbacks and forwards, but does not establish the protagonist as a likable character an audience can empathize with before his inner journey’s ups and downs. Warning for the easily offended: Male nudity is involved.

With Bated Breath ends May 24 at the Centaur, 453 St. François Xavier.



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