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A CurtainUp Review
Party Face
A suburban farce that crosses over into a family drama. — Isobel Mahon, playwright
Haley Mills (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Here's a hint. Grab your lipstick, slip into your finery and put on a happy face if you're invited to a party, especially if it's Isobel Mahon's Party Face where everyone prepares to look her best and prove her success.

Now playing at City Center, Party Face promises a swift pace of surprises. An Irish playwright and actress, Mahon has a keen ear for dialogue and delivers hilarious quips and caustic insults from an eclectic cast of women. Smiles twist into grimaces and once hidden secrets spill out like Sauvignon. It is not until the characters unveil their buried concerns and admit their imperfections that there may be a resolution of acceptance.

This soirée takes place at the comfortable home of middle-aged wife and mother, Mollie Mae (Gina Costigan), just released from the hospital due to a suicide attempt, she's disheveled and feeling like a misfit. To raise her spirits, her mother, Carmel, a chic relentless status seeker played by Oscar winner, Hayley Mills (( Pollyanna ), invites a few of Mollie's gal-pals to her new state-of-the-art kitchen for wine and nibbles. Not quite in the mood, Mollie gamely sets out a bowl of chips and bottles of wine and awaits her guests.

Carmel, who tends to be controlling, arrives ten-minutes early. She explores the new kitchen and quips, "Call me old fashioned but is it a little… clinical?" She then sets out boxes of upscale nibbles, ignoring Mollie's potato chips. She tells her daughter that she just invited someone extra, "a fabulous little mixer," living downstairs.

Mollie complains that Chloe is "a pain in the arse" and tells her mother than she has invited her new own new best friend from the psych ward, Bernie. Carmel is horrified that it is "the woman from that. . . place. . ." And, on that high note, the party begins.

Director Amanda Bearse ( Crimes of the Heart, m TV's Married…With Children ) moves in and around the snappy lines as she puts her spotlight on each of the characters, all well-portrayed despite their broad, often stereotypical depictions. Chloe (Allison Jean White) swans in proffering upscale wines and looking modishly trendy enough to entice Carmel. She judges everything from the cheese frittatas to chitchat and a delight to watch especially when she interacts with Mollie's older daughter, Maeve (Brenda Meaney), a snappy successful career woman who keeps her own secrets kept close to the vest.

Mollie's friend Bernie shows also up — usually played by Klea Blackhurst but at the performace I attended by Alison Cimmet. With all her other afflictions (manic/depressive/obsessive/compulsive), Bernie is also a germophobe, ready to clean everything with her box of cling-wrap in hand. Even her sneakers are cling- wrapped. Before the evening is over, she has cling-wrapped everything in sight.

One might note that her cling-wrapping mania is a simile for masking the hidden germs and protecting the party faces while Mollie Mae's party unravels. Carmel has her own demons but there is a vein of sharp nastiness running through the interactions of Carmel sniping at Mollie, the daughters' memories of their absentee father as well as a vicious argument between Maeve and Chloe. Can psycho Bernie be the only normal woman in this play?

With an costume designer's eye for characterization, Lara De Bruijn dresses Mills in casual Max Mara, a pinstripe pants suit for Maeve and a hot pink eye-catching number for Chloe. Mollie Mae wears a baggy shirt and pants. The set of Mollie's modernized house is designed by Jeff Ridenour as upper-middle class. It's neither elegant or neglected but sensible, with pricey props, like the Gaggia cappuccino machine and the kitchen marble extention, scoffs and all.

Party Face, an updated version of Mahon's Boom? enjoyed a successful run in Ireland. Yet, Boom? was timed after a financial disaster in Ireland. Party Face is not even faintly recognized for the problems of the current "Me Too" era of choice and feminism. The play has a superabundance of laughs and true confessions but at the end, it lacks significance and is just old hat.

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Party Face by Isobel Mahon
Directed by Amanda Bearse. Cast: Hayley Mills (Carmel), Klea Blackhurst (Bernie), Gina Costigan (Mollie Mae), Brenda Meaney (Maeve) and Allison Jean White (Chloe)
Set design by Jeff Ridenour
Lighting design by Joyce Liao
Costume designs by Michael Blatzer
Sound design by Damien Figueras
Stage Manager:
Running Time: one hour and fifty minutes with intermission
City Center Stage 2, 131 West 55th Street
From 1/11/18; opening 1/22/18; closing 4/08/18.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors at 1/28/18 press performance

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