New York City Theater
"A Catered Affair"
Walter Kerr Theatre, Broadway
The reviews—immediate response to the show’s Broadway opening this week—run the gamut from rave to pan. Mostly the comments are critical, but, for our money, “A Catered Affair” is powerful, moving theater. Inappropriately dubbed a musical, this tale of lost dreams and restricted lives is really a drama with music.
And what a drama it is! Gritty, real, and unrelenting, it follows the fortunes—and misfortunes--of one Irish-American family in the Bronx. It is 1953, the Eisenhower era, and the poverty-stricken Hurleys struggle with the emotional/financial issues of their daughter’s upcoming marriage. Will she have a quick ceremony at City Hall, “with the immediate family,” or “a catered affair” involving hundreds of guests and thousands of dollars?
“A Catered Affair” has undergone several metamorphoses, with a 1956 film adapted from the original Paddy Chayevsky teleplay, and now, thanks to Harvey Fierstein, a Broadway show (which had its premiere this past season in San Diego).
But the theme remains the same. It is 1953, and Hurleys have just learned that their only son was killed in the Korean war. Meanwhile, they struggle with Janey’s wedding plans. Lurking just beneath the surface are marital misunderstandings and family frustrations between mothers/daughters, husbands/wives, brothers/sisters. Aggie, the mother, sees herself trapped in a loveless marriage, but she wants this moment of glory for her long-neglected daughter. Her husband Tom, a cab driver, sees his dream of a taxi medallion go down the drain with wedding expenses.
Harvey Fierstein, in writing the book for this current version, has written himself into the play. Uncle Winston, Aggie’s brother (who lives with the family and sleeps on the pull-out living room couch), has now become a gay man—and a more interesting character. But all the characters—as written and played—take on such subtle nuances that they become fully-fleshed, believable humans.
Faith Prince, in the central role, creates an understated, tight-lipped, bitter, stubborn Aggie. Who would have believed that this bouncy, brassy Broadway babe could take on such a role? But Prince is superb. She is well matched by Tom Wopat as her husband, and both Leslie Kritzer and Matt Cavenaugh are appealing juveniles. And then there is Fierstein, who never camps it up as Uncle Winston, though the temptation must be there. He, too, in this carefully-crafted role, wins our hearts.
Though John Bucchino’s music and lyrics do little to enhance “A Catered Affair,” the same is not true of the set design. Video projection has become a popular Broadway innovation these days, and director John Doyle and projection designer Zachary Borovay use it to marvelous effect. The Bronx tenement world, with gossips hanging from their windows, pervades the story.
All told, a show to be savored.
Apr. 24, 2008