Dreams Get Trampled in a Glum Catered Affair

The Setup: 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 Execution: 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 hard-scrabble 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.

The Verdict: 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 - Chelsea Market, 4617 Montrose Blvd., 713-524-6706.)

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover