The characteristic “struggling actor with a side job” is well known, and Michael Patrick Gaffney details his own trials and tribulations as one in “The Oldest Living Cater Water,” the name predicting his future. He enacts pivotal moments in his life as an actor and cater waiter, delivering a blend of comedy and sincerity to make for a wholly entertaining show.
Gaffney starts the show with his boisterous humor, playing the role of the “oldest living cater waiter” and rolling into the room with a scooter, backed by the cartoon sound effects of a car. Without saying a word, he jokes about his perceived future, amusing the audience with his unique path in life.
Gaffney describes his childhood while projecting relevant slides in the background, making it easy for the audience to imagine the settings and events he describes. He portrays the first significant person in his life, his middle school theater teacher, with a classic Southern accent, inciting laughter with the ease of his storytelling.
Later, Gaffney describes his move to Los Angeles, detailing his first waiter and performance jobs. He plays multiple characters, with some perfectly crafted for comedy. Others felt slightly strange for the audience to see, such as when he portrays a 5-year-old as an older man. Overall, however, the scenes of his struggles as an aspiring actor were funny because of the underlying honesty. It was easy to relate to the effort to make a career out of a passion, with his approach making it very comedic.
Next, Gaffney details his first relative success as an actor in the theater, and then recounts how he found out how much more successful his classmate had been as a Tony-winning Broadway actress. This is the first moment of solemnity in the play, less obstructed by offhand, funny remarks. This story conveys how feelings of inadequacy tend to plague people in their lives, with the constant comparison to others in similar situations. Gaffney makes one feel less alone in the plight of needing to be up to par with everyone else.
The transition from Gaffney’s feelings of sadness to his regular hilarity is done smoothly. He details how he found cater waitering, telling the audience of dreary tales made funny by his succinct comments. In particular, his experience with rude celebrities is heavily discussed, a topic of immense interest for all kinds of people. For example, Gaffney talks of chain-smoking Danielle Steel. These scenes are brimming with comedy — the audience laughed along with Gaffney at his unfavorable experiences. Gaffney molds his stress, disappointment and misery into jokes.
The final scenes take a dramatic turn in tone. Gaffney cries out his feelings of frustration, voicing an extreme dread about being a cater waiter for the rest of his life. His strikingly emotional performance compels the audience to feel pity for and to empathize with him. Gaffney expresses his disappointment with his life, a feeling many have experienced over their lack of accomplishments, solidifying the show’s essence of relatability.
Although the finale is effective, the overall act is not populated enough with similarly evocative performances. Portrayals of serious feelings not overlaid by light jokes are quite rare within the show, which makes Gaffney’s pitfalls in life less emotionally impactful. The performer’s choice to use comedy throughout the show was a good one, but the great emphasis on it makes the overall performance less thought-provoking than it could have been.
“The Oldest Living Cater Waiter” is an accurate portrayal of, simply, life. Gaffney gives the audience a taste of his, accompanied by his natural humor, to make for an entertaining performance. However, if not for the dark scenes scattered sparsely throughout the play, the show would not have been as compelling. It makes the spectators feel less alone in their greatest struggles and gives the correct impression that life is full of disappointment and sadness. The only way to have fun with the negative emotions is to laugh at them, like Gaffney did with his performance.
“The Oldest Living Cater Water” is now playing at the Gateway Theatre until July 13th.