By William Wolf

PARTY FACE  Send This Review to a Friend

Colorful acting makes Isobel Mahon’s play more watchable than one might expect from the work itself and the author’s set-up. For starters, a party is being given and yet there are only four guests, apart from the hostess. What kind of a party is that?

But the party-giver has an interesting situation. She is Mollie Mae, played by Gina Costigan, who has created a new kitchen in her home in Dublin, Ireland (scenic design by Jeff Ridenour). The glossy, modern kitchen contrasts with the suicide attempt and nervous breakdown that led her to a recent stay in a psychiatric center. Mollie is also trying to put an optimistic sheen on her marital relationship, refusing to recognize that her husband who has departed has really left her for good.

Her take-charge mother, Carmel, played by Haley Mills, has arrived a bit early, and we see her quickly bustling about the kitchen. Mills is excellent in her role as Carmel, very dominant but played with an understated tone rather than a loud one. She does her pushing but with an outward demeanor of charm even as she angers Mollie, who is trying hard to be her own person and is aghast at her mother’s suggestion that it would be good for Mollie if her mother moved in with her.

To Mollie’s chagrin, her mother has taken it upon herself to invite the very annoying Chloe, who puts on airs as a know-it-all. Attractive Allison Jean White plays her way over the top, but is amusingly pretentious in the part. Another guest, Maeve (Brenda Meaney), spends most of the time mocking just about everything Chloe says by making snide asides or casting incredulous looks. The other guest is Bernie (Klea Blackhurst), who was in the psychiatric residence with Mollie and the last to arrive. Bernie bursts in with the force of a truck and has her share of funny lines to go with her bullish behavior and unabashed candor about her psychiatric treatment.

One the one hand the play has its serious side, with Mollie having to face the realities of life and her glib mother having to face the fact that her daughter has embarrassing problems to overcome. But the author also tries to turn the play into a comedy, best defined by Chloe’s shrill platitudes about life and the efforts to overcome difficulties by such silly steps as a ritual of plunging the mind into imagined situations. There is also much traditional type comedy in the mother-daughter relationship.

The mix is odd and shallow, leaving it to cast members under the direction of Amanda Bearse to bear the burden of providing amusement via their acting. The venerable Ms. Mills does very well in this respect, with the audience inevitably harking back to memories of her early, youthful success, but primed to see her totally in her present light, leading to recognition that she can be very effective now at the age of 71. Mills earns her hearty welcome. At New York City Center Stage II, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed February 16, 2018.


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