A big appetite for Top Hat theater’s ‘Mangia’

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Top Hat Productions’ new dinner-theater show is a hit – and it hasn’t even opened yet.

“Mangia!” will premiere tonight at Top Hat’s theater in the Fairview Arts Center, 4220 Youngstown-Poland Road. Demand has been so great that the run was extended by three performances, because the original four were sold out.

Of the three additional performances, tickets are scarce.

The comic show centers on a rift between two Italian women over which one makes the best spaghetti and meatballs. Each performance of “Mangia” will be preceded by a dinner.

“Mangia” was written by Brian Palumbo, who seems to be uniquely qualified for the task. He is not only an actor and playwright, but is also the executive director of Top Hat and the owner and chef of Selah Restaurant in Struthers.

Palumbo said the play showcases the importance of family and culture, regardless of era and background. He based it on an altercation between two families he knew personally.

Twenty years before the start of the play, the two matriarchs began a seemingly endless feud over – yes – spaghetti and meatballs. Viewers attend a party hosted by the two feuding women, and as the clock turns back, they learn the story that led to the families’ 20th wedding anniversary dinner party.

“I found it to be the perfect disaster to put on stage,” said Palumbo. “In Italian culture, the groom’s parents are to pay for the rehearsal dinner and provide alcohol. Stepping outside of that was a huge insult.”

Twelve performers will bring this dinner theater to life: Giuseppe “Joe” Borzacchiello as Tony LaVinci; Greg Endsley as Vito; Aundrea Heschmeyer as Lisa Casternella; Angela Housteau as Irma Russo; Heather Jones as Kim; Monica Moore as Olivia Casternella; Liz Samuel as Patrice LaVinci; Mark Samuel as Uncle Bill Russo; Christopher Scott as Tim O’Brien; Denise Sculli as Camilla Casternella; Anthony Villa as Marco LaVinci; and Denny Villa as Louis Casternella.

The director is Emma Watson.

The show is set in a typical, old-school Italian kitchen and living room. The homey atmosphere invites the audience to come in, and enjoy some food and culture around the dinner table.

“Growing up in that era, spending time with grandmothers and great grandmothers, it was always around a table or a stove.” Palumbo reminisced. “There’s so much intimacy that goes along with food.”

This is why it was so important to him to provide an insight into Italian culture in the play. There’s nothing quite like quality time and family traditions.

The wonderful thing about “Mangia!” is that anyone can relate to it, said Palumbo. “These characters are fun and written so anyone could say, ‘Hey I had an aunt like that’ or ‘I had a friend like that’,” he said. “It’s a culture and a connection you don’t forget.”

Palumbo hopes more than anything that the show brings laughter to all who are a part of it. The idea is to make sure that family is a priority in this age, by reuniting people around a table.

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