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Funny Family: Aurora starts summer off with comedy

Special Photo<br> Aurora Theatre will perform the family comedy "Over the River and Through the Woods" Thursday through June 5.

Special Photo
Aurora Theatre will perform the family comedy "Over the River and Through the Woods" Thursday through June 5.

LAWRENCEVILLE -- As a final salute to its 15th anniversary season, and a side-splitting welcome to summer, Aurora Theatre offers patrons the hilarious family comedy "Over the River and Through the Woods" Thursday through June 5. This candid, comical look into family relationships, growing old and the generation gap is both poignant and comical.

The Gianelli family, Italian-Americans from Hoboken, N.J., hashes out difficult and heartfelt family struggles over the grandmas' generous Sunday dinners. When their only grandson earns a promotion that would take him from Hoboken to Seattle, the grandparents can't fathom why he might want to leave. Then they devise a plan to convince him to stay. Will it work?

"In my job I see a lot of theatre, so when a play stays with me years later, it's special," said Anthony Rodriguez, the Aurora's producing artistic director. "I saw 'Over the River and Through the Woods' in 2001. It amazed me how poignant and funny the relationship is between young adults and grandparents. I know this comedy will resonate with our audience as well."

The Aurora Theatre welcomes some of the region's most accomplished and exciting actors for this production. Eddie Levi Lee, who plays Frank Gianelli, is considered by many to be one of the pioneers of Atlanta Theatre. Susan Shalhoub Larkin (Aida Gianelli) has been in Atlanta theatre since the inception of the Center for Puppetry Arts and Georgia Ensemble Theatre. She has also been on Broadway, the Alliance Theatre and Theatre on the Square.

The cast features seasoned actors with a variety of theatrical backgrounds, and the players come together in such harmony and natural interaction that patrons will feel as though they have a seat at Grandma's dinner table.

"This is a great group. That's the joy of it," Lee said.

Playwright Joe DiPietro is one of the most successful in the business, having received the Tony Award in 2010 for his work on the Broadway musical Memphis. Other standout musicals under DiPietro's belt include "All Shook Up," "The Toxic Avenger" and "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change."

"I think Joe DiPietro would be very pleased with this group (of actors)," Lee said. "And the director gives everyone a lot of freedom. That's how it has to be."

Lee adds that since the play features not just one but two sets of grandparents, several of the actors are seasoned pros who bring a lot to the table.