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Party Girl! Productions: Abigail's Party by Mike Leigh Never Gives Its All-Star Cast A Chance to Twinkle

June 16, 2006 - Durham, NC:


Party Girl! Productions’ presentation of Abigail’s Party, which plays June 22-25 and June 29-July 2 at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham, NC, is a mildly amusing comedy that never gives its all-star cast a chance to twinkle like the supernovas they are. The script by British playwright and screenwriter Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies, Topsy-Turvy, and Vera Drake) might well be characterized as “Desperate Housewives, Circa 1977.”

Beverly (Nicole Farmer), Angela (Gigi Delizza), and Susan (Lenore Field) are middle-class Londoners — and fading English roses — living humdrum lives cheek by jowl in an undistinguished suburban community of cookie-cutter homes. Beverly’s imperially thin workaholic husband Lawrence (Mark Jeffrey Miller) looks and acts a lot like Uriah Heep in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, and Angela’s studly hubby Tony (Jeff Alguire) looks and acts like a former footballer (i.e., soccer player) who has taken one too many headers.

The titular character, Susan’s tall 15-year-old pink-haired daughter Abigail, is never seen; but the loud music played at her teenage party is intermittently heard at the nearby adult cocktail party hosted by Lawrence and Beverly for their neighbors Tony and Angela and Susan. From the opening curtain, the atmosphere in the home of Beverly and Lawrence is that of forced conviviality, because Lawrence and Beverly are fast approaching the end of their marital rope. By comparison, the first arrivals at the party, Angela and Tony, are positively ecstatic about their humdrum marriage; and the last arrival, Susan, is a mousy divorcee who seems to get along with her ex-husband a great deal better than her fellow party-goers get along with their current spouses.

In Mike Leigh’s paint-by-numbers plot, increasing numbers of gin-and-tonics are consumed; all the part guests get hammered; and, of course, secrets are revealed in the end. The problem is, they are not very interesting secrets — indeed, they are entirely predictable revelations given the quirks of the characters involved.

Mark Jeffrey Miller’s Lawrence is a cringing sneak who uses his business interests as an excuse to flee home as often as possible. Consequently, Nicole Farmer’s Susan is a most unhappy and sexually unfulfilled drunk.

Despite her nurse’s training, which she gets to use in the show’s final segment, Gigi Delizza’s Angela is a dingbat; and, despite his good looks and muscular physique, now going to seed, Jeff Alguire’s Tony is as thick as a brick and prone to succumb to the slightest of female attentions, whenever he can get away from his whiny and ultra-clingy wife. Lenore Field’s Susan, on the other hand, is a hand-wringing mess with a nervous stomach, and no doubt a pushover for her headstrong teenage daughter and a doormat for her former husband.

The Party Girl! Productions cast, performing under the direction of Tom Marriott on a nice set by Derrick Ivey, clearly demonstrates all these character traits. But this comic soufflé, which relies far too heavily on drunken small-talk for its yuks, falls flat because (to mix metaphors) director and cast fail to make lemonade out of this lemon of a script. Abigail’s Party was considered daring and a biting satire on English middle-class mores when it debuted in 1977. Thirty years on, it is just another run-of-the-mill situation comedy — an inferior stage version sitcom, at that — with far too few real bellylaughs to justify its two-hour running time (including intermission).

Party Girl! Productions presents Abigail’s Party Thursday-Saturday, June 22-24 and June 29-July 1, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, June 25 and July 2, at 2 p.m. at the Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $10 Thursday and $15 Friday-Sunday. 888/239-9253. Common Ground Theatre: http://www.cgtheatre.com/. Internet Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075622/.