A genial, but heavy handed comedy of mob violence, cannibalism and coy gaiety.
By Joel Benjamin
Enjoying Dinner with the Boys, the new comedy by Dan Lauria, depends on one’s tolerance for politically incorrect, unsubtle, ethnic and vaguely homophobic humor. Judging by the audience’s reaction, there is an extraordinary tolerance for such humor, particularly when served so genially as in Mr. Lauria’s play. It’s certainly written with a vast knowledge of its mob milieu and clearly not meant to offend anyone, just entertain.
However it is also dated and obvious. It’s the kind of play where a character strokes a huge green zucchini while talking about little white meatballs (emphasis on the last syllable), all the while tiresomely clueless that he has the hots for his male housemate. (Why the zucchini is so huge is a major plot point.)
Dinner is directed by Frank Megna to exaggerate every joke and innuendo, including having mob bosses appear in doorways to thunderclaps and flashing lights, in mock superhero fashion. Each and every member of this cast has appeared in one mob flick or another and all are skillful in playing around, even heavy handedly, with the genre. Clearly Mr. Lauria believes he’s written a good-natured play that is ribbing just the kind of hateful stereotypes that he is portraying here.
Mr. Lauria plays Charlie, a mob hitman who is sharing a pleasantly shabby suburban New Jersey house with Dom (Richard Zavaglia), a mob cook/sometime hitman. They have been exiled because they mishandled a rubout. Their boss, Big Anthony (Ray Abruzzo), who was forced to commit the hit himself, is punishing the slightly effeminate Dom and the weak-kneed Charlie by making them eat the resulting carcass. They are, in fact, ensconced at the deceased’s house until they finish gobbling him down. Fortunately, Dom is a swell cook.
At the play’s opening, they are about to devour the last piece of the dear departed. They’ve already used his bones to fertilize the backyard garden resulting in the bumper crop of vegetables, including the afore-mentioned squash. (Shades of Sweeney Todd!) To give some credit to Mr. Lauria’s talent as a writer, their matter-of-fact repartee, with its winking gay and mob references, keeps the play moving along amusingly.
When they are threatened by Anthony, they go into action and rid themselves of the problem, only to discover they are in deeper than they realized. By Act Two they are a bit desperate until yet another rubout coalesces their plans leading to a happy-ish ending that will keep the two together, awkwardly dancing around domesticity for the foreseeable future.
The actors throw themselves into the show with zest and make the most of the obvious.
Jessica Parks’ worn at the edges suburban Jersey house has all the right little touches like Last Supper paintings, portraits of Old Blue Eyes and frilly faded curtains. Patricia E. Doherty’s costumes have captured the characters’ ideas of leisure and formality and are letter perfect. Jill Nagle has good naturedly gone along with all the jokes in her lighting. So has Matt Kraus whose sound score includes all the right Italian favorites, heavy on the Dean Martin.
Dinner with the Boys (through July 5, 2015)
Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row 410 West 42nd St., just west of 9th Avenue New York, NY
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com
More information: www.dinnerwiththeboysplay.com
Running time: 95 minutes with one intermission