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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Walter Kerr


  PH:Jim Cox

A Catered Affair &ndash Harvey Fierstein's adaptation of the 1953 Paddy Chayefky teleplay, with score by John Bucchino &ndash hails from the sad, drab early side of the fifties, before the advent of poodle skirts and swivel hips.

Sex was already clearly under way - contravening Phillip Larkin's famous observation (Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three / (Which was rather late for me)." Otherwise, we'd now be short a couple of generations. Still, it's a shocker to see it acknowledged in this retro context. An early scene shows the not-yet-affianced Janey (Leslie Kritzer ) and Ralph (Matt Cavenaugh ) lolling in bed in her parents&rsquo shabby Bronx apartment. The folks are away - attending a memorial service for their son, a Korean War casualty, in Washington - and so the young couple are free to play. Afterglow provides a perfect opportunity for Janey to broach the possibility of a quick, cheap, convenient marriage.

In writing the book, Fierstein has taken all sorts of liberties with the original &ndash only incidentally awarding himself the plummy, made-up part of Janey's openly gay uncle. And more power to him! The caring presence of Uncle Winston helps offset the emotionally withholding interactions involving Janey's housewife mother, Aggie (Faith Prince ), worn to a frazzle by the strictures of chronic poverty, and cab-driver father (Tom Wopat ). Tired of pinching every penny, Aggie &ndash on hearing Janey's news &ndash determines to shower her daughter with a blow-out of a send-off, a last-ditch effort to impress the world at large. That no one wants this display &ndash least of all, Janey &ndash is of little concern: Aggie figures she's due a splurge.

Catching us up on the family's collective history are a trio of tenement-window gossips (Kristine Zbornik, Lori Wilner, and Heather McRae ), who inject much-needed energy into this depiction of a life-draining milieu. John Doyle's direction of the dispiriting interior scenes &ndash the domestic arguments - is perhaps too true to life.

The surface is impressive, though. David Gallo's courtyard set, with its fire escapes (so handy for monologic musings), is both evocative and serviceable. Ann Hould-Ward's costuming is spot-on in capturing the tail end of the forties (these women would have had a tough time keeping up with fashion trends).

Where the musical falls down is in the musical aspect. With a few exceptions, Bucchino's melodies and lyrics are a dull wash &ndash a good match for the subject matter, but hardly entertaining. Janey and Aggie's duet, One White Dress is catchy &ndash Janey's part especially, when, protesting that she's never been a girlie girl, she finds herself caught up in a vision of glamour. And her father's furious, eleventh-hour outburst, Stayed , is a stirring wake-up call: Wopat instantly erases any sense of torpor and tedium.

Like most marriages, A Catered Affair is not always easy going - but in the end, you'll be glad you rode it out.


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