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‘A Catered Affair’ at Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre

Aggie (Ingrid Cole) and Tom (Anthony Rodriguez) are married in “A Catered Affair,” which focuses on a Bronx family. Photo by James M. Helms

Aggie (Ingrid Cole) and Tom (Anthony Rodriguez) are married in “A Catered Affair,” which focuses on a Bronx family. Photo by James M. Helms

Theater review
“A Catered Affair”
Grade: B-
8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays. Through March 28. $16-$30. 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville. 678-226-6222, www.auroratheatre.com.

By Wendell Brock

“A Catered Affair” — which Lawrenceville’s Aurora Theatre is giving its first post-Broadway production — is a study in disappointment. Love, war, the economy: None of this has been kind to the Bronx tenement family trying to decide whether to spend its nest egg on the father’s taxi business or the only daughter’s wedding.

Based on a 1950s teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky and tailored into a chamber musical by Harvey Fierstein (book) and John Bucchino (music and lyrics), the tale of the Hurley family brings to mind the smoldering domestic tensions of plays by Arthur Miller, Clifford Odets and Lorraine Hansberry. As a counterpoint, Bucchino’s music gets pulsed through a contemporary blender (a la Jeanine Tesori and Adam Guettel), which helps loosen our fixed perceptions of song and speech in storytelling. The opening number, “Partners,” is particularly inventive, a quartet that alternates between the early morning chatter of young lovers Janey and Ralph and the ancient camaraderie of taxi-company partners Tom and Sam.

You have to admire Aurora for plucking a fresh-off-the-vine title and giving it a good, solid, nicely performed production. But I’m not sure the writers ever quite reconcile the hodgepodge nature of the material, although Fierstein (who comes to Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre next week in “Fiddler on the Roof”) does flesh out the part of the “confirmed bachelor” uncle. Played on Broadway by Fierstein and here by Glenn Rainey, Uncle Winston lives with his sister Aggie (Ingrid Cole), mother of soon-to-be-married Janey (Laura Floyd) and wife of Tom (Anthony Rodriguez).

Winston, a florist who sleeps on the family’s sofa and has an offstage friendship with a man we never meet, gets in a tizzy when the family decides it won’t be able to afford to invite him to Janey and Ralph’s rushed-up wedding. Who wouldn’t be offended? Is it because they don’t have the money or because he’s gay? During a dinner with Ralph’s somewhat stuffy parents (Nita Hardy and Randall Taylor, both quite good), Winston stumbles in drunk and has a thing or two to say about “Immediate Family.” It’s a funny, truthful bit, although Rainey’s outsize voice and demeanor aren’t quite as affecting as usual.

Part of the problem here seems to be deciding whose story this is. It’s not Janey’s really. She has pretty much been invisible all her life, and it’s only in the aftermath of her brother’s battlefield sainthood that her parents start to appreciate her (“Our Only Daughter”). But weddings really are for the mother of the bride, and since Aggie didn’t have much of a nuptial splash, she and Winston start to envision an elegant and expensive “Catered Affair.” It’s a sweet little premise, and to see Aggie fantasize about the details of the dress and cake are kind of wonderful. Cole, alas, is a little maudlin at times, playing to the melodramatic stereotypes that date the Chayefsky original; and neither Floyd nor Jeremy Wood (as husband-to-be Ralph) muster much in the way of chemistry or charisma.

On the design side, Philip Male (sets), Corrie Haislip (props) and Joanna Schmink (costumes) conjure the authentic look and feel of Eisenhower-era New York, although keeping all the action (including the band) behind the proscenium doesn’t make it feel as urgent as it might. And any show that rolls out half of a fake car (or in this case a yellow taxi) probably isn’t going to win any awards for innovation. “A Catered Affair” seems to have one foot in the last century and one foot in the present, which is why getting it down the aisle may be such a fraught endeavor.

One comment Add your comment

Raye

March 17th, 2010
5:24 pm

I thought this was a lovely, lyrical, moving show, one of the best I’ve seen at Aurora. It’s refreshing to see a show that explores what happens when everyone has good intentions, yet those intentions still cause crisis. There are no villians here, just people trying to do the right thing by their family. A strong production with universal (mostly!) appeal.