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TBT serves up full platter of comedy

September 28, 2011
By DIANE SPEER - News Lifestyles Editor , The Alpena News

Fans of comedy and Mafioso types will want to check out Thunder Bay Theatre's latest offering, "Breaking Legs" by Tom Dulak, since it liberally serves up a full platter of both. Set in an Italian restaurant owned by a successful mobster, things quickly get complicated and more than a little amusing when Terrence O'Keefe, a naive college professor turned playwright, shows up in search of backing for his off-off-Broadway play.

The professor's pitch to the "family" is his last ditch effort to secure financing, and he opts to turn there only because the restaurant owner's daughter, Angela, is a former student. After they decide to back his play, he discovers the blemished truth about Angela's relatives when they rather indelicately dispose of a lesser thug and then coerce Terrence into writing a funeral eulogy for the man. Further complicating matters, Angela becomes enamored of the already married professor. Her powerful dad is all for the relationship if it makes his unwed daughter happy.

Interestingly, TBT Artistic Director J.R. Rodriguez chose to have a female play the head of the Mafioso family. As written in the script, it's normally Michael Franciso, but for TBT's version of "Breaking Legs," it's Michaela Francisco. I'm not sure that the decision to do so totally worked, although Rodriguez did cast Terry Carlson in the part, who is always an audience favorite no matter what role she takes on. She brings her usual topnotch skills to the stage and provides more than her fair share of comedy with her character's nervous stomach, bluster and ability to laugh without moving her lips.

Bill Powell, who plays "Uncle" Tino DiFelice, is without question the most "mob-like" of everyone in the show. From the way he dresses to the way he talks to his constant propensity to devour all the Italian dishes served up at the restaurant, Powell gives an outstanding portrayal of a mobster. Let's just hope he comes to each show on an empty stomach because, amusingly, he consumes a lot of food throughout the show's two acts.

Derek Spack also gives a really strong performance as the professor, though Spack's youthful countenance doesn't necessarily convey the supposed age difference between his character and Angela. As Terrence, he gets in way over his head and becomes more than a bit unnerved when he finally realizes who and what he's dealing with not to mention that he portrays a fairly hilarious drunk to boot.

Nickie Hilton appears as Angela, the brash, demanding daughter and manager of her father's restaurant. Hilton's Angela knows what she wants and she doesn't make any bones about it.

Rick Mesler plays her imposing and occasionally manipulated father, Lou Graziano. Lou is all for producing the professor's play though with some questionable revisions because he envisions himself pulling up to the theatre on opening night in a stretch limo, a couple of babes draped over his arms.

Rounding out the cast is Scott Edgar, who plays Frankie, a character with a rather short life span.

All of the shenanigans take place inside the family restaurant in a small town in Connecticut. Red and white checked tablecloths, plus a few other restaurant-related details, help to set the scene.

TBT's "Breaking Legs" successfully mixes restaurant biz, show biz and gangster biz for some good laughs. Remaining performances are Thursday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Call the box office at 354-2267 for reservations.



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