The Oldest Living Cater Waiter: My Life in Three Courses

Michael Patrick Gaffney in THE OLDEST LIVING CATER WAITER. Photo by DC Scarpelli

The Oldest Living Cater Waiter: My Life in Three Courses: Monolog written and performed by Michael Patrick Gaffney and directed by Ken Sonkin. Sponsored by 42nd Street Moon at the Gateway Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA.

June 23-july 9, 2019                 [Rating  : 4]

The name Michael Patrick Gaffney is a household name to those who attend theatre performances in the smaller Bay Area Theatres. He is a main stay at 42nd Street Moon where he is playing in his autobiographical solo show that received mostly a standing ovation after his 75 minute romp replete with honesty, humor, slapstick, juggling, singing dancing and pathos. The show has been  five years in the making with collaborator Ken Sonkin (who also directs) beginning after an award winning stint at the San Francisco Fringe Festival in 2016. Since then it has made the rounds at other local venues and is now giving a polished production that should not be missed.

It is common knowledge among theatre goers that non-Broadway actors do not earn a living with their stage gigs and euphemistically and actually are told “do not give up your day jobs” even though your reviews are laudable. Those day time jobs are, it has been said, involve waiting on tables in restaurants that allow flexibility for auditioning.  Gaffney goes multiple steps up the hierarchy with a career as cater waiter. No I was not aware of this category of table waiting but after Gaffney’s tour de force performance it is indelible in the mind.

When you enter the theatre you are treated to an elegant stage including a round table with a fancy table cloth set for five with gold-colored chairs precisely staged, an elegant crystal chandelier and side tables of wine glasses and wine bottles. As music plays Gaffney dressed in a tuxedo adjusts and checks the perfection of the table settings as Broadway tunes play in the background.

That image is shattered on his second stint on stage riding a motorized scooter to upset the perfection of the set before he starts his autobiographical history. Along the way he plays multiple characters including his 8th grade teacher who instilled in him the love of acting. After that what is a boy from Oklahoma to do but head for Los Angles where the theatre scene was active and not as competitive as New York City.

He entertains us with the details of his early waiting jobs with projections on the back wall screen of menus and early photos from his early life. He is absolutely hysterical as a waiter in a second rate diner when he shouts back the jargon of simple orders that unfortunately were not written down by this reviewer.

The details are much too numerous to fit into this short review but some of the vignettes include:  The potato skin incident, his session with his psychiatrist that fizzled when the psychiatrist cried, The encounter with chain smoking celebrity who demanded a special drink order in the middle of a formal meal, his fiasco as a clown at children’s birthday party and on and on. He juggles bread rolls, swings from the chandelier, sings and dances, performs Falstaff speech from King Lear about the effects of alcohol and through it all his love for the theatre remains strong.

Although the “elegant job” as a cater waiter kept the wolf from his door there were multiple downsides. They include wear and tear on his physical body of aching feet and joints often requiring the use of pain relievers.  

Through it all there is the pathos of never reaching the heights of a younger Oklahoma classmate who won the Tony award (Kristin Chenoweth?) but never losing his love for the theatre. The evening ends on an upbeat although there were trials and tribulations of being a cater waiter with  an Equity card. Although Michael Patrick Gaffney labels this show as “My life in Three Courses” he has been the “desert” in many productions.

PRODUCTION STAFF: Director, Ken Sonkin; Stage Manager, Elyssa Wolf; Costume Designer, Michael Berg; Lighting Designer, Michael Palumbo; Video & Sound Designer, Ken Sonkin; Key Art Designer,  DC Scarpelli; Piano Recordings, Kevin Roland; Original Lyrics, Tom Orr.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of