Mollie Mae (Gina Costigan) has just returned from three weeks in a psychiatric ward after a suicide attempt and is giving a party to show off her new kitchen extension to cheer herself up. First to arrive is her social-climbing mother Carmel (Mills) who brings unasked for munchies, begins cleaning up, and reveals she has invited Chloe (Allison Jean White), the gossipy neighbor with the perfect veneer from two doors down.
Unfortunately Chloe is good at getting information out of people and quickly learns why the marble island in the new kitchen is damaged and the whereabouts of Mollie Mae’s unseen architect husband Alan. To help Mollie fight off her mother’s efforts to make her the perfect daughter, she has also invited her no-nonsense, career woman sister Maeve (Brenda Meaney) and Bernie (Blackhurst), a new friend from the hospital who has a paranoid fear of germs but is great fun to be around.
The women talk of husbands and ex-husbands, neighbors, food allergies and feelings of inadequacy. The food and drink goes in for a bashing while all comment on the antiseptic-looking new kitchen (the latest thing) and the unusual topiary in Alan’s new back patio. As the drinks fuel the conversation, secrets and revelations are divulged and the battle lines are drawn while Bernie quietly goes around wrapping everything in saran wrap. The zingers fly as the temperature heats up.
Mills is charming as the mother into designer labels, who is never satisfied and whose every compliment is accompanied by a “but.” She is the only one on stage with a pronounced Irish accent though at times her low voice is difficult to hear. Blackhurst steals every one of her scenes with her perfectly normal descriptions of her paranoia, phobias and coping mechanisms. White is a bit of a cliché as Chloe, the prying, tale-bearing suburban matron who continually plays the game of one-upmanship but she makes the most of her opportunities as she forwards the slight plot. Meaney’s Maeve is mainly used to deflate the others with her pragmatic and unromantic view of the world. In the most underwritten role of the five, Costigan remains morose and melancholy as the party spins out of control.
Bearse’s smooth direction keeps this two act play moving but can’t disguise that it is a bit long for what it has to say, considering we have heard it all before. Jeff Ridenour is responsible for the elegant but cold black, white and cream-colored kitchen extension that doesn’t yet look lived in. The attractive costumes which define the characters are by Lara de Bruijn. Joyce Liao’s subtle lighting seems to direct attention to where the action is.
The best reason to see Isobel Mahon’s Party Face is to see the ever-lovely Hayley Mills who used to play mischievous teens and now is playing busy-body mothers. The play is diverting though it has nothing new to say about women and their contemporary roles. Under Amanda Bearse’s direction, the play also gives Klea Blackhurst another off-beat comic role in which she shines.
Party Face (through April 8, 2018)
New York City Center – Stage II, 131 W. 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.NYCityCenter.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with one intermission