Stage breakup: Play reveals the world of Cellino and Barnes

Dynamic duo: Michael Breen and David Rafailedes star in their play about the highly-publicized breakup of injury attorneys Cellino and Barnes, at the Bell House on Aug. 3.
Andrew Breen

Talk about courtroom drama!

A new play portrays the shocking falling out between New York’s most iconic pair of injury attorneys: Cellino and Barnes. “Cellino v. Barnes,” which will play to a sold-out crowd at the Bell House on Aug. 3, offers a quirky, comedic take on the feud between law firm partners Ross Cellino and Steve Barnes, known across the state for their omnipresent ad with its catchy jingle, according to one of its writers.

“The guys are kind of like an urban legend in New York — if you mention them people sing the jingle right back to you,” said David Rafailedes, who also stars as Barnes in the play.

When the legal eagles had their highly publicized break up, Rafailedes and his co-star Michael Breen realized that, despite their fame, the buddy barristers were shrouded in mystery — which made it easy to adapt their legal drama for the stage.

“Everybody knows who they are but we know nothing about them,” Breen said. “It’s great if you’re writing, it’s almost like fan fiction.”

The two writers invented a comic plot to explain how the pair came to hate hate hate, hate hate hate hate each other. The characters in the two-man show are based on advertisements and news reports, with Barnes portrayed as the hard-working and serious half of the team, based on an ad where the real lawyer gave a detailed explanation of a specific medical case — versus the fun-loving Cellino, sourced from reports of Barnes calling his partner lazy.

Members of the real Cellino’s family have enjoyed previous productions of the play at Park Slope’s Union Hall and in the firm’s upstate hometown of Buffalo, according to Breen, and Cellino himself has expressed interest in coming. In contrast, Barnes has no interest in the show — which seems appropriate, said Breen.

“There’s a quote from Barnes in the Buffalo News that plays aren’t really his thing, which is the most Barnes thing ever,” he said.

The show at the Bell House may be sold out, but fortunately for fans of the injured attorneys, the performers hope to make it a regular production somewhere in New York.

“We’re looking for a more permanent home for the show,” Breen said.

“We’re confident we’re going to do it again —we’re just ironing out the details,” Rafailedes said.

“Cellino v. Barnes” at the Bell House [149 Seventh St., between Second and Third avenues in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510, www.thebellhouseny.com]. Aug. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Sold out.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.

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