Porchlight Theater Presents: A Catered Affair

Porchlight Theater’s adaptation of “A Catered Affair” is presented through R & H Theatricals. The book of the same name by Harvey Fierstein works seamlessly with the music and lyrics by John Bucchino. Although it is offered to only 138 theater-goers per a show (with three shows a week) on the thrust stage, the show could be broadways next hit: revival edition, shying away from big productions numbers and replacing it with sincere emotion. The seats are arranged in a U shape, and part of the orchestra off the stage right; they would later function as an orchestra within the parameters of the show.

The story, which is based in a 1953, begins with Aggie (Rebecca Finnegan) mourning the death of her son. Simultaneously on stage, her daughter, Janey (Kelly Davis Wilson) and her boyfriend, Ralph Halloran (Jim Deselm) decide to marry. This sets the story into motion and creates the main source of tension in the show, as her parents decide how to use their life savings—to save the family business or give Janey a lavish wedding. Dolores, Pasha and Myra (Anne Sheridan Smith, Caron Buinis and Lauren Villegas respectively) provide comedic relief, adding a unique element of realism to the musical. In fact, these three characters could have their own show, shouting at each other from opposite ends of the set as they openly gossip through the windows of their respective apartments.

The set was stationary albeit the back wall was an apartment façade with a balcony in the middle connecting both sides, with the stage setup as the interior of the apartment. The lighting design by Nic Jones aided the eye, by drawing full attention to the action, virtually leaving everything else in the dark. Moreover, the stage was split into three different spaces: on stage right, a bed is down stage in the bedroom and on stage left a kitchen table upstage with a sofa in the living room on center stage with corresponding floor authentic to the time period (see photo on left). These three items would be moved and used so often, one would think the cast was out to feng shui the set—yet it never distracted the audience. Nevertheless, Brain Sidney constructed the set and Nick Bowling’s direction rarely obstructs the view or interferes with the magic of a scene.

During the musical number, “Vision,” which is just over the halfway point of the 90 minute show, Aggie sings about planning Janey’s wedding. In the scene, she accompanied by Tim, her husband (Craig Spidle), Uncle Winston (Jerry O’Boyle) and Buinis. Although Aggie carries the scene into a dream sequence in which her daughter and son-in-law to be, and company bring to life her wedding vision (hence the title). Finnegan’s powerhouse voice permeates every crevice of the theater and show restraint when necessary piercing right through to ones heart.

O’Boyle draws from his prior role as “Edna” in Hairspray with his first non-traveling show in Chicago since 1992. He conveyed, through successfully subtle hints of his characters homosexuality, before actually saying it, without shifting to stereotypical behavior. Deselm left much to desire, he blended into the background neither impressing nor boring the audience; whereas, his parents Mr and Mrs. Halloran (Larry Baldacci and Smith respectively) played out their characters with poise and an ethereal level of refinement. The cast is comprised of 9 actors, who through doubling appear onstage often.

As Ralph, Janey and Uncle Winston leave to start a new chapter in their life, the finale numbers “Don’t ever stop saying ‘I love you’ (Reprise)” and “Coney Island (Reprise)” brings the show to a tear-jerking, somber end followed by a standing ovation. Overall, the musical appeals to a wide demographic and was casted with care—it is unique with its approach and directed with caution. I would R.S.V.P to this catered affair, this musical ranks on my must see (and must see again) list.