02 June 2008
A Catered Affair Was Neither Catered nor an Affair...Discuss
So I saw A Catered Affair on Saturday, and though I'm not all that interested in writing a "review", I do feel inclined to discuss the show, particularly in light of its numerous Tony Snubs and generally bad press. And by generally bad press, I mean Ben Brantley's review in The
Times, because otherwise, I don't really bother to read it.
Brantley ultimately faults the show for is restrained universe, saying "in musicals there has to be some largesse — of spirit, of style, of originality — to make an audience care about those singing strangers onstage. In 'A Catered Affair' people are seldom big enough to pin your feelings on."
The plot is thin: A working class family receives bereavement check after losing their son in the Korean War and has to choose whether to spend it on their daughter's wedding or ownership of the taxi the father had been driving under another man's supervision. Though there is not much more that happens in terms of incident, this conflict drudges up all sorts of emotional baggage and exposes the tensions which lie underneath all the varied familial bonds. There is very little screaming--be it in anger, euphoria, or the throws of passion. But, even hanging out at the edge of the universe in the last row of the balcony, I felt that I was watching very real, vibrant people going through something that was--the them at least--profound. As an old acting teacher would say, "I felt like I was watching something happen."
Would I have still felt that way if director John Doyle loosened the clamp on the production and allowed for a musical number or two (or even a line reading) that soared in the visceral, swelling way one comes to expect with a musical? Yes. Perhaps even more so. But I found A Catered Affair to be exquisitely executed and deliberate: the creative team envisioned a music-theater universe where music and emotion pulse with an understated, even weary, sense of humanity, resignation, longing, and resentment. It is almost a sort of inverse theatricality, and I found it effective.
A Catered Affair is a worthy experiment in the musical form. And though I can agree to disagree with much of what Mr. Brantley writes, I do take umbrage with the notion that a musical "has to" anything: Agreeing that "in musicals there has to be some largesse" can only be limiting to the form, regardless of whether or not A Catered Affair, as a stand alone example, disproves or supports the notion.
Here's a pleasant song from the show, sung perhaps-not-so-pleasantly by Harvey Firestein. I won't be giving away when I say it is reprized less than fifteen minutes after it in initally sung, by an ensemble shuttled around on platforms moving across conveyor belts. A James Lapine Finale if ere I saw one.