Monday, April 28, 2008

A Dismal Affair

"A Catered Affair" at the Walter Kerr Theatre, April 26, 2008

(photo: Jim Cox)

Another Rialto musical that does little to charm, provoke, stir or interest, "A Catered Affair" is based on material by Paddy Chayefsky first produced for television, then in film. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the film version which starred Bette Davis, Ernest Borgnine and Debbie Reynolds as a working class family in the Bronx torn between investing in the father's taxi medallion and giving their daughter a wedding she'll never forget.

The creative team for this show has pedigree: director John Doyle, bookwriter Harvey Fierstein, sets by David Gallo and lighting by Brian McDevitt, with an experienced cast led by Mr. Fierstein and Faith Prince should have added up to a solid offering.

So much for pedigree, sadly.

In this adaptation by Harvey Fierstein, the story is basically the same. Tom (Tom Wopat) and Aggie (Ms. Prince) have just returned from a memorial in Washington, DC for their son, killed in Korea. Their remaining child Janey (Leslie Kritzer) announces that she and her boyfriend Ralph (Matt Cavenaugh) are engaged, with plans to wed in a couple of days. The rush is to take advantage of an offer from a friend of Janey's who is also marrying and moving to California. Janey and Ralph have the chance to drive the friend's car and belongings cross country, which they would treat as a paid honeymoon. As soon as the announcement is made, Aggie's brother Winston (Mr. Fierstein) turns up. He lives with Aggie and Tom and has "evolved" in Mr. Fierstein's adaptation from a drunken Irishman into a fey florist.

Suffice to say, the small plans get overblown and Tom's hope of finally earning a better share from the taxi fades as Aggie realizes she favored the now-dead son over her daughter. Strife, woe and a lot of noisy shouting ensue before Aggie realizes that she was the reason she felt her marriage was loveless all those years.

I knew early on that things weren't promising when the first song in the show didn't start until ten minutes after the lights went up. John Bucchino's score is sometimes cinematic, but the songs tend to just stop rather than ending. The results on more than one occasion were uncomfortable silences when the music stopped.

Other than to provide Mr. Fierstein with a vehicle for himself (not that I would begrudge that), I never understood why it was necessary to make Uncle Winston gay. It only served as an anachronistic distraction from the story. I don't think a 1953 Winston would have announced his orientation so loudly at the first meeting with the new in-laws-to-be.

As Aggie, Ms. Prince returns to Broadway for the first time since her 2001 appearance in the revival of "Noises Off." Her Aggie is pragmatic (performing without mascara), but longs to give her child what she didn't get. I found it interesting that in the longer dialog scenes, Ms. Prince's delivery reverted to clipped, Bette Davis-style meter and inflection.

Mr. Wopat felt a bit miscast and underused in the role of Tom. He shuffles and grumbles until Aggie finally says out loud that their life was loveless, when he replies that he never felt that way.

Ms. Kritzer's Janey is practical and nicely voiced, but doesn't get much to work with. Mr. Cavenaugh's Ralph sounded a lot like his Joe Kennedy, Jr. from "Grey Gardens."

Kristine Zbornik is the only one of the remaining company that manages to create an impression with the material she's given.

David Gallo's set follows the current trend of projected images on a white background. It's a nice moment for the song at the catering hall when the image takes on color as Aggie describes what she imagines for the reception. Brian McDevitt's lights create plenty of shadows for the company to avoid so they can be seen. Ann Hould-Ward's costumes were serviceable, but why did she feel compelled to put Matt Cavenaugh's pretty face behind those ugly horn-rimmed glasses?

Director John Doyle appears to focused on characters at the expense of entertainment. There's a lack of sweetness that should encompass a story like this. He seems to have only spent time on the conflicts, perhaps thinking the sweetness would rise on its own.

It didn't.


jan@broadwayandme said...

Alas, I couldn't agree with you more. Shortly after I wrote a similar post on my blog, my friend Bill forwarded the link to an entry on All That Chat that compares the San Diego production, which drew both acclaim and awards, with the one we saw here in New York. It's a long read but a fascinating one for anyone interested in how shows are put together. You can find it at:

Mondschein said...

I read the post Jan mentions and it's quite enlightening. Check it out before it drops off the message board.