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Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2009 11:24 pm

Dinner with the Mafia

Local actors present a Valentine’s Day dinner theater

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Bob Bartel (on the floor) is surrounded by the cast and crew of Dinner with the Mafia, including Suzanne Parris, Mike Welch, Steven D. Snyder and Isaiah Harper.

The Cubs-White Sox rivalry runs deep in Illinois, and plays a significant part in Bob Bartel’s Dinner with the Mafia, an interactive and locally produced show with two performances on Saturday, Feb. 14.

Actor, producer and comedian Steven Snyder, who lives in Chatham, describes the play as a “whodunit murder mystery comedy.” The plot, he says, revolves around gangs of Northsiders and Southsiders in 1935 Chicago. Someone gets killed. Maybe for insulting Gabby Hartnett.

The action takes place during a fictional dinner at Louie’s Pizza Parlor in front of the audience, who will be tasked with fingering the killer before the end of the night, while feasting on an Italian buffet.

Springfield’s Bob Bartel came up with the idea years ago, but the project never really took off until a recent partnership with Snyder and fellow producer Brandon Montgomery catalyzed his creative process. They met through the Springfield & Central Illinois Film Commission and have since formed a production company responsible for organizing three different productions. The Feb. 14 show is the first in a trilogy the group hopes to produce as live shows, and ultimately as a movie this summer.

An open casting call has been announced to fill roles in both the movie and future dinner theater productions. Aspiring actors are invited to bring photos and an ID to Ginger Asian Bistro at 3100 West White Oaks Drive on February 21 between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. A parent or guardian should accompany those under the age of 17.

In the current incarnation, Snyder plays a character called Godfrey, the Godfather’s incompetent second-in-command. “We try to have a lot of fun with the material and spoof the genre,” Snyder says. “Instead of the traditional Untouchables, we’re dealing with the Unrefundables, Elliot Mess and G-Man.”

Bartel, Snyder and the entire 16-member cast have been at it since November. Local actors include Susan Parris and Mike Welch. “We’ve been rehearsing for three months, which is difficult considering our schedules and day jobs. We’re all doing it for free right now because we think it’s a worthwhile investment,” Snyder explains (the producers hope to pay actors in future productions). Snyder has a background in psychology and has been accepted to several clinical psych programs — which he may forgo in order to pursue film school. “We do this because it’s a passion. It’s fertile ground for us,” he says.

Snyder adds that the group believes they’ve tapped in to a marketable franchise, saying that all revenue outlets will be considered going forward. They are currently seeking sponsors and investors, have a partnership with a Missouri-based production company, and are even exploring options to bring Dinner With the Mafia to China.

“The mafia is popular wherever you go. People are fascinated by it,” Snyder says. “During the Great Depression, two things increased as people looked for an escape: drinking and going to the movies.”

During this more modern time of economic uncertainty, Snyder and his fellow creatives are offering a chance for locals to eat, drink, laugh, and perhaps, escape.

Dinner with the Mafia runs Feb. 14 at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. at the Vinegar Hill Mall, 107 W. Cook. Admission is $25, which includes a buffet dinner complete with door prizes and pre-show comedy. The production is considered PG-13 and lasts approximately two hours. Tickets are available by calling the Pizza Machine at 788-5976, by e-mailing adinnerwiththemafia@yahoo.com, or by visiting dinnerwiththemafia.com.

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