A Catered Affair Based on the earnest 1955 teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky about a struggling, loveless family in the Bronx, which was adapted by Gore Vidal into an earnest 1956 movie starring Bette Davis, this gray little show was turned into another earnest kitchen-sink drama in 2008 when given music and lyrics by John Bucchino and book by Harvey Fierstein. The whole affair is glum, with scant laughs or spirit of any kind. Apparently, good, honest people in the Bronx are too busy working, scrimping and yelling at each other to kick up their heels. Their hardscrabble existence is crushing, as is their overweening guilt and lack of marital bliss. To overcompensate for the way she has always treated daughter Janey, Mom sets her sights on a big, expensive wedding, appropriating the money that Dad desperately needs to buy a taxi medallion and, finally, become his own boss. Everybody's dreams get trampled, and love gets kicked in the teeth — until it doesn't and everything ends happily. Gay Uncle Winston, played on Broadway by Fierstein, has his anachronistic "I Am What I Am" moment, wherein he drunkenly tells off his immediate family — this shocker wouldn't have happened at all in a drab little living room in the Bronx in 1953. The only color is supplied by the exceptional cast, led by the vivid Luisa Amaral-Smith as fierce mother Aggie, who's unafraid to be unloving and harsh. It's not her fault that her character is often left alone to stare longingly offstage, where her aspirations and hopes lie. She stares magnificently. And Jeff Galligan, as suffering husband Tom, bursts into splendid voice in his anthem "I Stayed," the only real scorcher among the score. But Bucchino's monochromatic music never relieves the gloom. Whenever his songs start to burst into life, he stops them with a jagged little coda, as if not wanting to finish the thought. These songs are put over by the cast, not by the composer. This play with music is paced by director Andrew Ruthven with an exceptional, sympathetic ear. Unfortunately, the show's earnestly undeserving. Through January 23. Main Street Theater, 4617 Montrose, 713-524-6706. — DLG
Plaza Suite Neil Simon's slight, and slightly funny, comedy from 1968 works best when, as in the Broadway original, all parts are played by the same actors. Set in the same suite in NYC's famous Plaza Hotel, each act brings us a new couple and a different style of comedy. So, in Act I, we meet a married couple from Mamaroneck — she, trying to revive their marriage; and he, ultimately 'fessing up to an affair. They toss off patented Simon wisecracks, but the comedy sours. In Act II, a wolfish Hollywood producer puts the make on his innocent former high school sweetheart, who gets loopier with each vodka stinger and turned on by his recitation of the rich and famous. It's a one-gag scene, for sure, and doesn't go anywhere, but it's an actor's delight. Act III is the most farce-like, as two harried and haggling parents from Long Island attempt to coax their recalcitrant daughter out of the hotel bathroom so she can get married. Clothes get ripped, Mom has heart palpitations and Dad, walking outside on the window ledge, gets soaked in a rainstorm. In the original show, which played for two years on Broadway, two powerhouses, George C. Scott and Maureen Stapleton, went slumming in this comedy under Mike Nichols's Tony Award-winning direction. When the same two actors play all the leading roles, we're much more forgiving of Simon's sketchy format, since we concentrate on the actors' technical arsenal, impressed by their playing six different characters with such flair and command. Here, at Theatre Southwest, we have six different actors, all very fine, so we end up focusing on the individual scenes, which aren't really that good when they're left to scrutiny. Suzanne King and Casey Coale are the unhappy couple in Act I; Scott Holmes and a bubbly Vicky McCormick are the Hollywood producer and his prey in Act II; and Bob Maddox and Lisa Schofield are the battling, slow-burn parents from Forest Hills. Collectively, these six are much more interesting, with much more range, than any of their three individual scenes. Simon's no match for these prodigious actors. Through January 22. Theatre Southwest, 8944-A Clarkcrest, 713-661-9505. — DLG
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