Bondo Wyszpolski

Surf City Theatre’s latest opens Saturday

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Jack Messenger as Frank, Daryl Hogue-France as Aida, Steve Oreste as Nick, Mandy Henderson as Caitlin, Bob Baumsten as Nunzio, and Diana Mann as Emma

Family Matters

“Over the River and Through the Woods” opens Saturday in Hermosa Beach

by Bondo Wyszpolski

Surf City Theater is back in business with a bittersweet comedy by Joe DiPietro, the author of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” and the Tony Award-winning musical, “Memphis.”

As for “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which premiered in 1998, it’s about… Well, here, let’s let the director, Gary Kresca, explain it for us:

“It’s the story of Nick, a 35-year-old man, who is the last remaining family member close to both sets of grandparents in Hoboken, New Jersey. His parents have retired to Florida and his only sister has married and moved to San Diego. Nick gets offered a promotion in Seattle, thus possibly deserting his grandparents and moving on with his life. His grandparents find ways to make him stay… What will happen? I’ll never tell…”

In other words, it’s for him to know and for us to find out.

“I had read the script before Lisa [executive producer Lisa Leonard] asked me to direct it,” Kresca adds, “and I was struck by what a wonderfully written play it is. Joe DiPietro has written many well-crafted plays but this one stands out for me. It is the perfect balance between hilarity and emotionality. Anyone who has had parents or grandparents… and I think that’s a majority… will be able to relate to the often frustrating interactions we have with our family. Those who know us well can sure hit those buttons!”

As for being in the director’s chair this time out:

Steven Oreste after coping with his grandparents

“Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately, depending on who you ask! I had a distinct vision for each of the characters, and the actors have exceeded that vision. They bring nuance, humor and humanity to each character. Steve Oreste plays Nick, Bob Baumsten and Diana Mann play one set of grandparents, Nunzio and Emma, with Jack Messenger and Daryl France playing the other, Frank and Aida. Mandy Henderson rounds out the cast as Caitlin.”

Caitlin O’Hare is the bait, so to speak, to get Nick to stay in town.

Since Nick, or rather Steve Oreste, is the one in the hotseat, what does he have to say about his role in the play and how he relates to his character?

“We’ve had a great time at rehearsals. As an actor, it’s always a gift to be working on a comedy where you’re constantly cracking each other up. But as this is also a comedy with heartfelt emotions, it’s also amazing to see each actor find that connection with their character’s true emotions.

“Gary has kept us focused on telling the story of these characters, and when we are truly focused on each other on stage, the play zips along. The biggest hurdle of bringing this play to life is the rapid-fire dialogue between five or even six characters on stage. So, not only the challenge of memorizing many lines, but having your ears working overtime has been a great exercise.

“For myself,” Oreste concludes, “I am truly thankful to be playing the role of Nick. Although I don’t share the same life as my character, his struggle with a separation from family hits home with me. My parents moved away from theirs when I was young and I did the same to my parents when I went off to college. Not for lack of love, but just opportunity was the reason behind my parents’ moves and my own. What this play reinforces in me is this: remember to hug those you love as much as you can, when you can.”

Over the River and Through the Woods plays three weekends at the Second Story Theater, 710 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. This Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Also March 24 and 25 at 8 p.m., March 26 at 2 p.m., March 31 and April 1 at 8 p.m., with a closing performance on April 2 at 2 p.m. Tickets, $25. Call (424) 241-8040, or go to surfcitytheatre.com. ER

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