Hayley Mills, Brenda
Meaney, and Allison Jean White photos by Jeremy Daniel
By Ron Cohen
decades ago Hayley Mills won the hearts of Disney live-action moviegoers with
such turns as the title role in Pollyanna (for which she won an Oscar
for outstanding juvenile performance) and a pair of twins in The Parent Trap.
So, for those of us who sometimes worry about the fates of child movie stars,
it’s good to report that Mills is currently disporting quite handily in the
off-Broadway offering Party Face. At the same time, she’s carrying on
the acting tradition of her family; her father was the late revered British
actor John Mills, and her sister is actress Juliet Mills.
not-so-good news is that the play she’s headlining in is a rather wan affair.
Written by Irish playwright Isobel Mahon, it shows us how a gathering of five
ladies in an upscale suburban Dublin apartment goes awry – as such gatherings
in plays tend to do.
The party is
to celebrate the newly created kitchen extension in Mollie Mae’s flat. The
problem is that Mollie Mae, played with appropriate glumness by Gina Costigan,
isn’t quite in a party mood. For one, she’s only recently been released from a
psychiatric hospital, recovering from a nervous breakdown. Furthermore, her
husband of 16 years has taken up residence in a hotel.
trying to carry gamely on, under the urgings of her overbearing, determinedly
chipper widowed mother Carmel, played by Mills, looking snazzy in pink shantung
jeans and sporty white blouse.
her daughter’s party menu, Carmel has brought an elegant assortment of hors
d’oeuvres for the event and cheerily carries on about Mollie Mae’s husband,
unaware that the couple has split. Carmel furthermore has invited Mollie Mae’s
disliked but socially prominent neighbor Chloe to the party. As played by
Allison Jean White, Chloe’s bubble-headed superciliousness is apparent from the
moment of her arrival.
The other two
guests, who arrive eventually, are Maeve (Brenda Meaney), Mollie Mae’s older
sister and a cynical career woman with her own busted marriage, and Bernie
(Klea Blackhurst), who was Mollie Mae’s co-patient at the hospital.
from a highly severe case of germ phobia, Bernie has a compulsion to cover
everything in plastic wrap, which she carries in her bag. It’s one of the
unconvincing elements of Mahon’s writing, which also includes the convenient
breaking down of the kitchen plumbing, spurting water into the air, to provide
a hectic first-act curtain.
the unearthing of connections between the women and other revelations, as they
cavort and drink through the evening. They dispense one-liners that don’t quite
land, and zingers that don’t zing.
interesting, however, is that the play presents a picture of Irish life rarely
shown on New York stages, contemporary women quite on their own, living in
fairly comfortable circumstances, as depicted in Jeff Ridenour’s set and Lara
De Bruijn’s costumes. There’s no talk of “the troubles,” no sign of the
melancholy lyricism or macabre spookiness, often marking Irish dramaturgy. If
only Mahon’s people took on a life of their own, rather than coming across as
concepts of the playwright. Director Amanda Bearse gets the actors through
their paces in brisk fashion to the play’s somewhat upbeat conclusion about
self-acceptance, but she also seems to have pushed them – or let them slip --
into occasional caricatures, losing any sense of reality and dimming the
might say, better luck next time, Ms. Mills.
Playing at City
Center Stage 2
131 West 55th