I have to start by saying, I love Hayley Mills. I have loved Hayley Mills all my life. She was there for me as Pollyanna, and the twins; Sharon and Susan in Parent Trap. In college when the rest of the cast of the Good Woman of Setzuan went to the closing night party, I went home to watch The Moon Spinners on TV. So I was over the “moon” to see her on stage and in one of my favorite venues in the city, City Center’s Stage II. An intimate space across from the larger City Center Stage I Theatre where Eve Ensler is doing her In The Body of The World. Two stages occupied by strong, smart women. “Yes!” I have to say to this. “Yes!”
Party Face, a new play by Irish playwright and actress Isobel Mahon and directed by Amanda Bearse, opens with Mollie Mae (Gina Costigan) preparing herself and home for a party. Her home we notice from the get go is one of those new modern stark looking spaces where kitchen cabinets and appliances are all hidden behind clean cool utilitarian wooden covers often gray or beige and made to make the home look perfect. Much what the characters in the play are aiming for - perfection. Cover their “cabinets” hide the ugly “stuff” and show only the top layer that is flawless and always civil. Remember to be the good girl, not the one to rock the boat or shake things up.
The first to arrive at Mollie’s gathering is her mother (Hayley Mills) and right away she is undoing and redoing all of Mollie’s work for the party. Politely, of course, and with the best intentions, she makes suggestions for better food, better drink, better attire. On and on she goes until interrupted by the next guest Mollie’s neighbor and the local know-it-all wanna be guru Chloe (Allison Jean White). Then Mollie’s tough, take no prisoners sister, Maeve (Brenda Meaney) joins the festivities and finally Bernie (Klea Blackhurst) Mollie’s roommate from the psychiatric asylum where Mollie, we find out, just got out of after being admitted for an emotional breakdown and attempted suicide. This, we discover, is her “coming home” party. A party to show off her new self and her new kitchen with all its clean lines and no flaws.
The party starts with all the pleasantries of a party. With the guests sharing with one another their perfect lives and husbands, or in Maeve’s case expounding on the shite kids in the neighborhood and using her wicked tongue to belittle and thus lift her own self up. But the drinking slowly unravels the flawless gray and beige lines and the truth, anger, hurt, and fear bubble up and out unmasking the mask.
Isobel Mahon has written a funny agile play about what and how women manage their way through life and friendships, and how, in the managing and navigating of others, we often find that we have lost ourselves along the way. We know much about the needs of those around us. But of our own needs? We haven’t a clue. What do we want? Who are we? What is our place in our own life? What do we really sound like when we speak? Questions that come up as we continue to attempt the flawless cover. This is not just a difficulty for women, but men also. All of us feel the need to have the best of this and that and show only our glossy selves in public, and in the ever increasing most sought after and important arena where perfection reigns, our social media life.
The actors are pitch perfect. The characters all hiding secrets and truths that make their way to the light by desire or force and most definitely humor. Gina Costigan as Mollie Mae is a vision to behold. You want to be Mollie’s friend. To hang out with her in the best of times and the worst. Allison Jean White turns the Chloe character, the nosey obnoxious neighbor, into a woman who is truly trying to help and remain positive and hopeful. Hers is a balance of wanting to be and being that makes Chloe such an interesting person and not a stock character. Klea Blackhurst as Bernie is rock steady hilarity. She gets some of the best lines that leave you howling and wondering. And Carmel, Mollie’s mom, played by Ms. Mills, is bloody grand. Sorry to the character of Carmel who says not to say “bloody” as it is "very unladylike", but it does have just the right gusto and fervor needed for Ms. Mills' performance. She is stunning as the mother who has always tried and succeeded at keeping up her perfection. The mother who will never understand what it takes from you when all you want to show is how in control and picture perfect your life is.
Some of the slapstick felt staged and pushed, but a minor detail to an evening, or afternoon in my case, of darn good theatre. Go and laugh and listen and enjoy.
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
What the popular press says...
"There are glimmers of a state-of-the-nation play here, in which shiny surfaces mask the dissatisfaction underneath. Mostly it’s a welter of women behaving badly and doubtfully."
Alexis Soloski for New York Times
"The cast does a good job navigating the script’s whiplash tonal shifts from goofy and raunchy to tender and stone-cold sober. But like Mollie, who’s used a sledgehammer to express her feelings, the script tips to heavy-handed speeches."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
External links to full reviews from popular press...