You know in the theatre, they don’t say good luck, they say “Break your legs.” At least that’s what’s Tom Dulak’s 1990 play “Breaking Legs” at the Elite Theatre would have you believe. The play tells the story of a fledgling playwright trying desperately to get his new work financed, even if it means uncomfortable dealings with some nefarious characters.
Will Carmichael plays Terance O’Keefe, a professor and playwright who has been invited by Lou Graziano to discuss the new play. Lou (John Comstock) may not be the traditional Broadway Producer type, but he is quite persuasive, and tries to give Terance an “offer he can’t refuse.” Comstock’s comedy training is apparent as he does most of the heavy lifting early in the show. Under the present and watchful eye of his demanding daughter Angie (Bethany D’Ambra) and along with his business associates, Mike Francisco (Larry Shilkoff) and Tino De Felice (Ray Mastrovito) the negotiations for production of O’Keefe’s ground-breaking psychological thriller begin.
When the audience enters the theatre, the first thing they notice is the set, designed by the director Allan D. Noel. It really gives the feeling that you are in a well loved Italian restaurant. From the plates full of food, and the statues in the corner, to the color palate and ambiance. The Elite has upped their game when it comes to sets as of late. This set was reminiscent of last season’s Superior Donuts in the level of transformation. This time, this quaint little seaside theatre has turned into a trattoria on the outskirts of New York and I was ready for some antipasto and veal.
The show is well written. Admittedly, the first act may be a bit slow. As the story unfolds, characters are introduced, there are some tense moments where we see these perspective business partners feel each other out. However, all this is necessary as dominoes are set up to fall for later in the show and the audience is kept engaged by Dulak's script- which is rife with innuendo, a quick wit, and- my favorite moment of the show- a “When Harry Met Sally”-esque Act I finale executed by Carmichael and D’Ambra that will keep you laughing through intermission, and bring you back to a well paced second act.
The cast does their best to balance the comedy and awkwardness of the situations presented. Comstock, Shilkoff and Mastrovito hold court and drive the meat of the show forward. The three Padrinos play off each other well. When “Uncle Mike” can’t think of a word, the quiet but ever engaged “Uncle Tino” always has his back. Mastrovito (as Tino) steals the scenes with his expressive face, Rodney Dangerfield-like tie manipulation and precision comedic timing.
For the sake of argument, one does have to wonder in these modern days if the trope of “all Italians are mobsters” crosses some lines of offensiveness. The admittedly stereotypical Frankie (portrayed by Reef Noell) comes in with loud costume and a pocket full of excuses on why he can’t pay his debt, which would be problematic if the jokes in the show were all about race. However, I found most of the humor in the show based on theatre references. There are many allusions to actors, plays, musicals and other theatre tropes and soon you start to realize Dulak’s Breaking Legs is an apt melding of the worlds. There is some playful winks and embracing stereotypes but the cast and production team have respectfully balanced the necessary character attributes to put on a slightly dated, but genuinely amusing comedy.
Breaking Legs is playing at the Elite Theatre Company in Oxnard until March 24th. Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm Sundays at 2pm.