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Monday, September 15, 2014

Review: ‘Dinner With The Boys’ by Dan Lauria at NJ Rep in Long Branch

dinner (1)

Guest Reviewer: Michael T. Mooney                       Sept. 13, 2014, at 8:00pm

Ever wonder what TV's “The Wonder Years” might have been like if Kevin's Dad were secretly in the Mob? Well, wonder no more.

Eight years ago “The Sopranos” was in its final season and actor Dan Lauria suddenly realized that he was one of the few Italian-American actors not to have appeared on the show. To remedy this he turned from performer to playwright and penned “Dinner With the Boys.” The play had a reading in Hollywood starring Lauria's famous friends Charles Durning, Dom DeLuise, Peter Falk, and Jack Klugman, all of whom have since passed on. Now Lauria has resurrected the comedy at NJ Rep, and taken Durning's role for himself.

In “Dinner With the Boys” we find two ex-mobsters, Charlie and Dominic, holed-up in suburban bliss somewhere in 'the wilds of New Jersey' (not exactly sure what exit that would be). The two have been declared officially dead to their syndicate brethren and have settled into a life of gardening, cooking, and pleasant nattering about their greatest hits (the non-musical sort). Lauria's contemplative Charlie is teamed with Richard Zavaglia's more domestic Dom, who takes as much pleasure in his pasta and meatballs as his past murders. Like Lauria, Zavaglia never appeared on “The Sopranos.” He did, however, play a wiseguy in the 1997 film “Donnie Brasco.” The well-honed rapport between these two pros is the play's delicious main course. Whether they are bickering (“Wake up and smell the zucchini!”) or strolling down a blood-strewn memory lane, the two are reminiscent of a gun-toting “Golden Girls.”

D1Everything is going along smoothly until Big Anthony, Jr., comes for dinner with the boys. From then on marinara sauce isn't the only red liquid spilled in the cluttered kitchen. As capo Big Anthony, Ray Abruzzo is the very model of a made man. To add veracity to the proceedings, Abruzzo is the only one of the boys to have actually appeared on “The Sopranos” - as Little Carmine Lupertazzi. Without giving too much away, once Big Anthony crosses the threshold, the plot resembles a giddy cross between “Arsenic and Old Lace” and “Sweeney Todd.”

Director Frank Megna nicely balances the violence with the comedy, which is essential to the success of Lauria's play. Perhaps in order to steer away from sitcom banality, Megna occasionally inserts surreal theatrical moments heightened by sound and lighting effects. There's also a “Sleuth”-like surprise in Act Two that never pays off (except in salary savings). While these touches don't entirely work, they are a mere speed bump. The overall enjoyment of this “Dinner” is watching the boisterous banter of goodfellas Charlie and Dominic.

“Dinner With the Boys” is being served at New Jersey Repertory Company through October 5th – but is nearly sold out, so reserve your tickets now - 732.229.3166 or online at www.njrep.org. The theater is located at 179 Broadway, Long Branch, New Jersey, 07740.

Photo by Suzanne Barabas

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