Hayley Mills stars in a new Irish play that doubles as a sitcom pilot.
You can tell that Amanda Bearse, director of Isobel Mahon's new play Party Face at New York City Center - Stage II, comes from the world of sitcoms. Immortally known as Marcy D'Arcy from Fox's Married…With Children, Bearse directed 31 episodes of that show, as well as other late-'90s/early-2000s comedies. She clearly knows her way around a zinger, and there are a lot of them in Party Face, an Irish play that has toured its home country under the title Boom? But this production, which stars Oscar winner Hayley Mills, proves that stage and screen are two very different beasts.
Mills plays Carmel, a social climbing mother-from-hell, who, despite the luxurious casting, isn't this play's principal character. That function belongs to Carmel's daughter Mollie Mae (Gina Costigan), a fortysomething wife and mother recently released from a mental institution after a suicide attempt. Priorities are priorities, and Carmel has decided to throw a party to show off Mollie Mae's newly remodeled kitchen (but ignore the sledgehammer-size hole in the marble island).
Chief on the guest list is Chloe (Allison Jean White), Mollie's wealthy neighbor who Carmel looks up to because of her trendiness and wealth. Carmel's eldest daughter, career businesswoman Maeve (Brenda Meaney), is also on hand. So is the kooky Bernie (Klea Blackhurst), whom Mollie met in psych ward. Wine flows into goblets that break with surprising ease (and not purposefully) as secrets are unsurprisingly revealed.
Despite taking place in present-day Dublin, Party Face feels out of touch with contemporary sensibilities and seems to be on the wrong side the ongoing conversation about women's rights. Mahon traffics in stereotypes: Mollie is a sad sack, Maeve is brittle, Chloe is a slut, and Alan, Mollie's husband, isn't here (he left her). When plumbing issues plague the party and Carmel screams, "We need a man!" it becomes clear this play isn't passing the Bechdel Test.
Lara De Bruijn's on-the-nose costumes underscore the hackneyed traits of these characters with multiple exclamation points: a skintight sparkly pink dress for Chloe, slacklike clothing for Mollie, and business-savvy for Maeve. The performances follow suit, with the actors playing the stereotypes more than actual people. Beyond the question of why she's in this play, Mills gets out mostly unscathed, simply because her performance is the most recognizably human one onstage.
That Bearse has directed television is very apparent throughout. The character work is broad and unnatural, and perhaps a director with more stage experience could have coaxed performances that were more multifaceted out of this company. The movement and blocking are mannered, the actors occasionally pause for laughs, and Jeff Ridenour's set, a stately but cold mansion, has the open floor plan of a space that looks as though it needs to leave room for cameras.
We wanted this to be a swell party, but the look of disappointment is apparent on our faces when we realize that this party is a dud.