In 'Breaking Legs,' acting, staging are hearty, but the plot's skimpy

November 12, 1992|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

Unlike the heavy Italian food -- pasta, veal and peppers, calamari -- that is served on stage in Tom Dulack's "Breaking Legs," this comedy, which opened last night at the Mechanic Theatre, is definitely light fare.

As directed by John Tillinger, its chief delight comes from the obvious pleasure the cast takes in performing this slight, but tightly staged, script. Indeed, at times it's delicioso to see Vincent Gardenia, Joseph Mascolo and Vince Viverito throw their weight around as big-time operators in a small town. Equally enjoyable is Gary Sandy's portrayal of a lackluster college professor -- the foil to these colorful would-be, could-be hoods.

But these performances are in service of a plot so slim, you begin to wonder if it's a parody of itself. Quite simply -- and this is simple stuff -- the professor, who moonlights as a playwright, hopes to get his latest script produced by a rich Italian-American restaurateur (Gardenia) and a few of his cronies.

Except for the fact that the professor's script is about murder, we learn almost nothing else about it. The central joke derives from the professor's fear that his investors may be a little too familiar with the subject.

The production's close ensemble work is no doubt largely due to the fact that most of the actors are holdovers from the off-Broadway run. The only weak link is Larry Storch, who plays a pathetic soul in the unfortunate position of owing money to Gardenia and his buddies; Storch exaggerates his character's fear to the point that most of his dialogue is unintelligible.

The sole female character, that of Gardenia's grown daughter, is played by Karen Valentine, who is as tough as she is perky. And though the romance between the professor and her is never entirely credible, her bond with her father definitely is. The only time she loses her edge is when she overplays her final confrontation with her dad.

Her costumes, designed by David C. Woolard, are also overstated; when she's supposed to be in mourning, she shows up in a skimpy cocktail dress that would turn heads in a tavern. The generic Italian restaurant set designed by James Noone is far more appropriate, complete with red-and-white checked curtains, row after row of Chianti bottles and large statuary (if anything, the set feels more substantial than the script).

In the end, one of the main advantages of "Breaking Legs" is lTC that, while it won't broaden your mind, it won't broaden your waist, either.

'BREAKING LEGS

Where: Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, Hopkins Plaza.

Tickets: $17.50-$42.50.

Call: (410) 625-1400.

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