Thursday, March 15, 2018

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Party Face with Hayley Mills

Gina Costigan and Hayley Mills. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Party Face
By Isobel Mahon
Directed by Amanda Bearse
NY City Center
Through April 8

By Lauren Yarger
One of the thrills of live stage theater is getting to see actors you love on film in person. Party Face at NY City Center's intimate Stage II, gives us a chance to enjoy being up close and personal with Hayley Mills, who won an Academy Award for Disney's "Polyanna" in 1960. 

The young actress, who continued her family's acting legacy (she's the daughter of Sir John Mills and Mary Hayley Bell and the sister of Juliet Mills) went on to star in such iconic films as "The Parent Trap" (in which she plays twins), "The Chalk Garden" (a personal favorite) and "The Trouble with Angels" (another personal favorite) among others. Later, on stage, she played Anna Leonowens in The King and I (a personal favorite -- do you see a theme going here?) So I was like a giddy fan when Mills made her entrance, looking fabulous (she'll be 72 next month) and pencil thin in Lara de Brun's costuming of metallic pink ankle pants and a blouse and short jacket.

Mills plays Carmel, a controlling mother who wreaks havoc in the lives of her two daughters, Mollie May (Gina Costigan) and Maeve (Brenda Meaney). In denial about Mollie's recent hospitalization just days before for a nervous breakdown, Carmel shows up for a party to celebrate Mollie's new kitchen extension in her suburban Dublin apartment (Jeff Ridenour designs the bland, modern grey kitchen framed by rocks and plants that suggest some sort of terrace.) Betraying a disapproving tone that suggests her daughter can't get anything quite right, she brings some food to serve the party -- "better" than the chips, hummus and vegetables Mollie has set out. She also invites Chloe (Allison Jean White), who Carmel thinks might just be a good influence on Mollie. After all, look at how nicely she is dressed in a flowy, stunning blue dress -- a stark comparison to the frumpy sweater and slacks Mollie wears, which draws several disbelieving "Is that what you are wearing?" remarks from her mother as she preps for the gathering.

Meanwhile, Mollie has her own ideas about whom to invite to the party and extends an invitation to Bernie (the always wonderful Klea Blackhurst), a fellow patient she met at the psychiatric ward, whose germaphobia causes her to wrap her shoes (and just about anything else) in plastic wrap. Needless to say, things get tense, especially when Carmel no longer can pretend that Mollie's suicide attempt and her son-in-law's decision to leave their marriage is just "a bad patch." Perhaps the fact that Mollie took a sledge hammer to the new marble counter top in the kitchen might have been a clue? Chloe's attempts at amateur psychology don't help either, but some genuine affection from Maeve and Bernie just might if everyone can abandon their party faces and get real.

Director Amanda Bearse (TV's "Married with Children") doesn't make the mistake of trying to stage this play like a sitcom. She gives the actresses room to create characters with as much depth as possible. The play by Isobel Mahon (Glenroe, Fair City) doesn't give them a lot to work with, though. There are some very funny lines in there, but overall the piece feels like a draft. Some ideas aren't fully explored and focus and polish are needed The intermission also needs to go in favor of a 90-minute, no-interval format (the end of Act One is one of the biggest action killers leading into intermission I ever have seen.)

The women party at City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th St., NYC, through April 8. Performance times vary. Tickets are $38-$128: nycitycenter.org

Additional credits:
Lighting design by Joyce Liao; Sound design by Damien Figueras

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- Derogatory term for women
-- Language
-- God's name taken in vain

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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