Mob Scenes

Top Hat produces a comedy production that works in all facets

Lou is a family man in more ways than one. He's got this good-looking but unmarried daughter, Angie, managing his Italian restaurant in some New England college town. Angie's got this former college professor she's been hot for ever since she spent a coupla semesters in school, and this professor, named Terrence, has got a script that he wants produced Off-Off Broadway, and Lou's got the money connections that could get the play onto the stage.

So here's where the rest of Lou's family comes in: his business partners, Mike and Tino. All three of these guys are, as they say in this kind of business, wearing it--gold rings and nice black suits for Mike and Tino, with Lou sporting sharkskin suits and enough heavy gold chains around his neck to obviate the need for concrete galoshes, should it ever come to that. Not that it would. Lou, Mike and Tino seem like full partners in everything, including the little Shylock business they've got on the side. Terrence even gets to observe the businessmen in action; seems that one of their clients can't even pay the juice he owes them, let alone the principal, so pretty soon, the guy is catching the next train through town. Actually, it's the train that catches him. Lou and his friends may be tough businessmen, but at least they don't cut too many corners on the funeral the next day.

So Terrence is starting to wonder if he's getting in with the right sort of investors. But the guys say they'd love to come up with the hundred G he needs for the show. They lose that kind of dough all the time at the track or shooting craps, so why not in the theater? Best of all, if the show is a hit, so to speak, there's a high potential return, a lot better than buying government bonds. So why dick around Off-Off Broadway? Why not spend the million it would take to make it a full-fledged Broadway show? Maybe with a little music. Mike's got a niece who plays the accordion.

As Terrence points out, there's a long history of Italian business families getting into the arts. Look at the Medicis. "You know the Medicis?" asks Mike, surprised. "I thought they were into booze and prostitution."

What we've got here is Tom Dulack's Breaking Legs, a very funny playwright-meets-mobster production that opened last weekend at Top Hat Theatre Club. True, the show's success rides on how willing you are to buy into the standard comic mob tropes. But Dulack, director Tony Eckstat and the Top Hat cast manage to fold the Mafia clichés into well-paced entertainment as colorful and garlicky as the antipasto plates Angie keeps hauling in. Surely, this script influenced Woody Allen, whose Bullets Over Broadway, in which a 1920s mobster proves to be a gifted Broadway script doctor, postdates Breaking Legs by a good five years.

(The title is a play on the superstitious theatrical substitute for wishing luck--"break a leg." As one of the mobsters reasons, if breaking one leg is good, breaking two is even better.)

What makes Breaking Legs even more fun than the standard mobster spoof is that Dulack plays little metacognitive theater games without being pretentious about it. One example: During a critique of Terrence's script, Angie, whom we have seen all evening on the play's single set, declares that she hates plays that have only one set.

Angie, by the way, is played by Tami Sutton, who pulls off the neat trick of reconciling her character's daddy's-girl nature with her more domineering tendencies. The Jack Lemmon-y Steve McKee is even more believable as Terrence, a smug but well-meaning intellectual who quickly succumbs to panic and then a bit of disgust when he sees how easily he can pass himself off as a wiseguy. (No way he'll ever be a real made guy, though; his mother isn't Italian.)

As for the bosses, Bruce Bieszki dominates the evening as Mike, big and menacing but not without a sense of humor. Tom Potter's Lou is a sort of Tony Soprano gone lounge lizard; he's got the Mafioso mannerisms down pat, including the head bobs and shoulder shifts. Bieszki's performance, in contrast, is less physical, more a matter of facial expression and verbal timing.

In smaller roles, James Mitchell Gooden is a droll, puckered presence as the laconic Tino, and James Wilson looks a bit young for his part but is suitably, nervously talkative as He Who Gets Whacked.

While the set is stripped down to the bare essentials, the uncredited costumes are right on the money, and the Dean Martin soundtrack sets the scene perfectly.

Everything falls into place to make this show, if you'll pardon the expression, work like gangbusters.

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