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Dinner With the Boys

Dan Lauria cooks up a crooked comedy at Theatre Row.

Richard Zavaglia (Dom) and Dan Lauria (Charlie) in Lauria's Dinner With the Boys, directed by Frank Megna, at the Acorn Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Two cuddly mobsters talk shop over fresh-grown zucchini and fine Italian meats in Dinner With the Boys, a new comedy by Dan Lauria making its off-Broadway debut at the Acorn Theatre. Lauria, joined by director Frank Megna, capitalizes on this crowd-pleasing archetype of murderous men with delicate taste, conjuring the lovable mafiosi of Goodfellas or The Sopranos as his protagonists Charlie and Dom shoot the breeze while chowing down on home-cooked meals. Unfortunately, after two hours of empty calories, we find that archetype is where these characters end.

Charlie and Dom, played by Lauria and Richard Zavaglia (though named after their original muses Charles Durning and Dom DeLuise), paint a picture of domestic tranquility in their quaint New Jersey cottage (meticulously designed by Jessica Parks). As the chef of the home, Dom waits on Charlie like a doting housewife while Charlie supplies Dom with fresh ingredients from his prized garden. They convene in their kitchen — furnished with lacy curtains, plaid wallpaper, and a king-size crucifix fit for your Sicilian nonna — to plan their evening meals. However, tonight's meal is "special," Dom says as he smiles coyly at his beloved Charlie. After tonight, their pal Leo will be off the menu for good.

They're not the Demon Barbers of Fleet Street, but an assignment gone wrong forced Charlie and Dom into this unfortunate meal plan. The pair was given the job of knocking off Leo, but after refusing out of friendly loyalty, they were banished to the Garden State and forced by Big Anthony Jr. (Ray Abruzzo), who had to finish the job himself, to consume every last piece of Leo's remains. Big Anthony Jr. promised to join them for the last meal of Leo, so tonight, Dom will be cooking for three. Maybe then the pair can return to their old lives of aboveground crime. Charlie is excited at the prospect, though Dom may have settled a little too cozily into country living.

As this bigger plot unfolds, Lauria and Zavaglia make for a charming couple, sharing in the simple pleasures and lover's spats that characterize their ironic pseudo-marital relationship. Even so, the well-worn paradox of sensitive mobsters, trading grisly war stories (dramatic lighting served up by Jill Nagle) while obliviously dropping sexual innuendos ("little white balls" are a menu staple) is not enough to carry the two-act comedy, which, despite its initially shocking premise, has little to set it apart from the rest in its genre. Abruzzo, a seasoned veteran of The Sopranos, does a fine job as your standard cocky mob boss, spraying more food than he swallows as his hot Italian temper gets the better of his threateningly cool demeanor. But even as blood sprays across the dainty kitchen and fresh victims inspire juicy entrées, we're left patiently waiting for something fresh to rattle the funny bone or shake the senses that Dinner With the Boys never delivers.

Perhaps this numbness in itself proves the point of the play, which Lauria intended as a commentary on violence in the media. The message behind the gory farce only registers if you're searching for it. Charlie only briefly flips through the paper to find headlines about war and a school shooting, while also reading about a few explicit movies and video games that turn his sensitive stomach. Nevertheless, the antics filling his Mafia romp never bolster this underlying theme — aside from proving that it takes much more than a few cannibalistic mobsters to shock a violence-saturated audience into hilarity.

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