Director describes play as mix of 'Goodfellas' and 'Odd Couple'

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FARMINGTON — Gangster tales may not be Chuck Holmes' favorite type of story, but he says there's no mistaking their popularity, given their prevalence in films, TV programs, books and live theater.

And Holmes thinks he understands way.

"Because it gives your normal guy on the street just a little bit of insight into something they don't want to talk about — but if they get the chance to peak around the corner and see that, they enjoy that," said Holmes, who is directing the Theater Ensemble Arts production of "Dinner with the Boys" opening Friday at the Totah Theater, 315 W. Main St. in downtown Farmington.

The play — which was written by Dan Lauria, perhaps best known for his role as Jack Arnold on the ABC-TV sitcom "The Wonder Years" — features a small, all-male cast and centers on two wise guys who have fallen into disfavor with their don over their failure to carry out an ordered hit. Their preparation of a special meal that could turn into the Last Supper is the background against which their fate is determined.

"This is a dark comedy," Holmes said Wednesday night before putting his cast and crew through one of its final rehearsals. "There is an underlying theme of really horrible stuff and funny material. It's like 'GoodFellas' mixed with 'The Odd Couple.'"

But "Dinner with the Boys" isn't played strictly for laughs, Holmes noted, describing it as a play with a strict moral code — albeit, a moral code from a gangster perspective.

"This is what is normal and moral for them, but it illustrates there is moral thinking in that mindset," he said.

Holmes' cast includes Tim Bagley as Charlie, Steve Borstein as Dominic, Brit Ward as Big Anthony Jr. and Dan Cabrera as The Uncle Sid. That may have made his job a little easier in his first stab at directing a full TEA production, he said.

"It's good to have an all-male cast I can connect with," Holmes said.

Holmes is a veteran of the company, having acted in approximately 50 of its productions over the last 13 years. He said that's given him the chance to learn from many of the company's most accomplished directors, including Ward, Joey Herring and Steven Clarke.

"It's pushed the outside of my comfort zone," he said of the experience of helming a production for the first time.

But he said watching those three work has been beneficial, explaining that has been able to adapt many of their tricks for his own tool box. Assistant director Charles Dobey and stage manager Karen Brewer also have made his transition to the director's chair easier, he said.

Holmes joined the production only after the original director backed out when her schedule became too busy. Holmes was approached by the TEA board about taking the project over and quickly agreed after he read the script.

As opening night nears, he's glad he made that decision. "Dinner with the Boys" offers a mix of fine Italian cooking and laughs interrupted by the occasional murder, but Holmes said all the violence is implied, rather than explicit.

"There's no blood and gore," he said.

And it's lighthearted enough to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable.

"It's a killer comedy, you might say," Holmes said.

"Dinner with the Boys" will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and April 20-21. It closes with a 2:30 p.m. matinee on April 22. Tickets are $12 for adults, and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets for the April 22 show are half price with a donation to The Roof men's shelter. Call 505-326-2839.

Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

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