Hayley Mills and Gina Costigan in “Party Face.” PHOTO BY JEREMY DANIEL
By Orla O’Sullivan
As a woman awaits her party guests her mother repeatedly tells her she should change. Of course, the suggestion runs much deeper than clothing, as the dynamic in Isobel Mahon’s “Party Face,” quickly makes clear.
With her bandaged arm, the hostess Mollie Mae, played by Gina Costigan, defies the dictates of a cruel world by openly bearing her scars. She’s not one to put on a party or game face and, for that, the world tells her that she is wrong.
Mollie Mae is just out of a psychiatric ward and, yet, it transpires (quelle surprise) that she is the sanest one on the set. As to why someone would chose to host an event just “five days” after her release, well, that’s another of the weaknesses in the writing.
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“Party Face” is a bit formulaic and not entirely credible—in the way of soap opera, the world from which this playwright comes. (Suffice it to say I was just waiting for the incongruously positioned bike helmet to be misconstrued by the phony guest as an objet d’art.)
However, with its quick dialogue and action, great acting and splendid set, it’s a fun romp of an evening if you just give yourself over to it. Much like the characters do when they do a train-dance around the set—before the alcohol-induced bonhomie (or, perhaps, “bonfemmie,” since it’s an all-female set) sours into unpalatable home truths.
It’s easy to see why “Party Face” was a hit in Ireland before coming to New York for its U.S. premiere as part of Origin 1st Irish. While other shows in the festival typically ended in January, this one continues at Manhattan’s City Center theatre until April 8.
Penned by Isobel Mahon, whom many will remember playing Michelle on the Irish television hit, “Glenroe,” Ireland’s longest running TV soap, who now writes for another hugely popular soap, “Fair City,” “Party Face” is, not surprisingly, accessible.
And the U.S. production has Oscar-winner Hayley Mills in the cast. The British actress, daughter of Sir. John Mills, has had a huge career in the U.S., including being the last winner of the Academy Juvenile Award (for “Pollyanna” in 1960). She won her latest award, Best Actress in 1st Irish, during the festival’s 10th anniversary celebrations recently.
Mills, who plays Costigan’s mother, got a big clap when she walked on stage during the production I saw. She’s excellent as the concerned but undermining mother.
One of her backhanded compliments, commenting on the daughter’s new kitchen, is preceded by her stock phrase, “Call me old-fashioned, but… “ Questioning the prevailing industrial design style, she recalls a recent visit to a friend whose kitchen was remodeled like the daughter’s. “I didn’t know whether she was going to serve me lunch or perform an autopsy.”
To her daughter’s horror, the mother has invited a shallow, snobby neighbor. This will also horrify the other daughter at the party, played by Brenda Meaney (daughter of Com). She has unfinished business with the neighbor, Chloe.
Chloe epitomizes why the New Age got a bad name, prefacing her simpering shows of concern with her stock phrase, “Can I just say something?” She never waits for permission. Chloe’s even too much for the otherwise glamour-seduced mother when she interrogates her on a list of possible allergens before accepting some finger food.
Bernie (Klea Blackhurst) does great justice to an obsessive-compulsive yet fundamentally grounded friend Mollie Mae made while inside. She rounds out the party.
Costigan, as Mollie Mae, performs well one of the hardest jobs on stage: acting normal. Yes, she’s the one just out of the looney bin, but she’s pretty much the ‘straight man’ on stage. Measured and compassionate, rather than acting out she feels the feelings—as Chloe might say.
For more information and tickets, go to partyfaceplay.com.