For theater students at Ryan High School, the fall show is all about love.
The company of actors and technicians is preparing to take Over the River and Through the Woods to the Texas Thespian Festival at the end of the month. So the students are exploring the imperfect but enduring ties that bind for just a little bit longer.
The comedy by Joe DiPietro finds Nick Cristano headed to the home where his Italian-American grandparents live — the house he grew up in. He has some news: He’s earned a promotion at work, and it means he’ll have to leave New Jersey (and his grandparents) and move to Seattle. The news will throw Nick and both sets of grandparents into a tailspin. They’ll want him to stay. And Nick panics at the thought of leaving.
“Nunzio and Emma are the fun grandparents,” said senior Cody Vann, who plays Nunzio Cristano, a father figure to Nick. “They go on cruises. They go out and do all these things and try to stay young.”
The Gianellis are the complete opposite of the Cristanos, said senior Eleanor Dearman, who plays the role of Aida Gianelli.
“Frank and Aida are more traditional and conservative, but they think it’s important for family to be together and stay together,” Dearman said. “The two sets of grandparents are close and get along. Frank and Aida are both nurturers, and they’ve taken care of Nick, too.”
Freshman Drew Stone stars as Nick, who in the play is remembering the fateful day he tells his grandparents he might move all the way across the country.
“He isn’t sure he should make the move,” Stone said. “The family is close, and he loves both sets of grandparents. And when he tells them, they get together and try to figure out how to keep him from leaving.”
Nick has to face the biggest question of his life: Does he sacrifice a job to make his grandparents happy, or does he build a life on their example?
The crew has worked to fill in the blanks. Lighting and set designer Zachary Neufeld created the Gianellis’ house.
“The main thing I had to focus on with lighting were the pinks and reds, to make it look like a real home,” said Neufeld, a junior. “We used a lot of aged furniture. We needed to make it look like a place where a family would live.”
Dakota Ratliff, a senior who plays Emma, said that as a company, they followed the characters’ example.
“There’s a lot of trust,” she said. “We spend a lot of time together and work like a family.”
The comedy includes some realistic but expected events, but those make the play more believable and touching, the cast and crew said.
“Anyone who see this show will identify with it,” said sophomore Conner Belt, who plays Frank Gianelli.
Director Jeannene Abney said the company has benefited from its extended family. The help and support of others has played a big part in the company’s preparations for the benefit performance, coming up on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.
The Nov. 27 performance will raise money to cover the school’s trip to the Texas Thespian Festival in Houston from Nov. 29 through Dec. 1. Over the River is one of three companies to get an invitation to perform during the festival.
“The cast, crew and the directorial staff is grateful to the district for its support throughout this journey,” Abney said. “And the family support we’ve gotten has been incredible. We started looking for furniture in the summer, and the family members of the cast and crew have been amazing. Just about every piece of furniture you see on the stage has been donated. The families have helped with the costumes and props. We’re very thankful.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
OVER THE RIVER AND THROUGH THE WOODS
What: Ryan High School Theatre Arts Department’s fundraising performance of the comedy by Joe DiPietro
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27
Where: Ryan High School auditorium, 5101 E. McKinney St.
Details: Tickets cost $10 at the door. Proceeds will help cover the company’s trip to the Texas Thespian Festival in Houston.
CAST AND CREW
The cast and crew of Ryan High School’s Over the River and Through the Woods:
Frank Gianelli — Conner Belt
Aida Gianelli — Eleanor Dearman
Nick Cristano — Drew Stone
Nunzio Cristano — Cody Vann
Emma Cristano — Dakota Ratliff
Caitlin O’Hare — Julia Durbin
Director — Jeannene Abney
Stage manager, running crew, understudy and company cook — Amanda Leavell
Running crew, understudy — Josh Soderstrom
Lighting operator and scenic design — Zachary Neufeld
Sound technician — Audrey Howell
Costumer, set dresser and properties — Vicki Vann