Like a theme-park ride, “Breaking Legs” requires a lot of waiting to get to the nuggets of fun: The first act is equivalent to being frozen in line, while the second act is the journey that ends with a splash. In short, the play settles in as the kind of lightweight pleasure for which the Pasadena Playhouse is usually known.
Creative writing professor Terence O’Keefe (James DeMarse) needs backers for his new play about a murder, and he has approached Lou Graziano (Stephen Mendillo), the father of a former star pupil, Angie (Marianne Ferrari).
Graziano loves the idea of funding the play, particularly since his daughter is so hot on the professor. He enlists his Italian-American friends Mike (Richard Zavaglia) and Tino (J.J. Johnston) to share expenses. And why go Off Broadway when they have enough capital to take it to Broadway? They haven’t read the script, but the theater sounds more fun than their usual gambling.
“Breaking Legs,” unfortunately, takes nearly an hour to set up. The first act brings many one-liners but little action.
The second act, broken into three scenes, has a livelier pace and quicker humor. Here, playwright Tom Dulak turns cliche on its head. The gangsters have at last read Terence’s play and find the story so chilling, the murder so gruesome, that Terence must be a cold-blooded bastard. They wonder if they can back out from their promise. But Angie loves Terence — even if he is married — so the men stick to their word.
Dulak — who also wrote and directed “Incommunicado,” a trenchant and provocative play about Ezra Pound seen in 1993 at the Odyssey Theatre — has left his usually serious playwriting to toy with a premise. Once he hits stride in Act 2, the piece becomes the farce it was intended to be.
Ferrari milks her role as a valued daughter who knows what she wants and how to get it. Her appeal is enhanced by Dawna Oak’s spectacular costume designs.
DeMarse makes Terence an appropriate innocent in a land of what turns out to be loving sharks. As those territorial creatures, Zavaglia, Mendillo and Johnston work well together.
Gary Wissmann’s set design not only details well a successful Italian restaurant, but the cutaways to the exterior add delight.