When I received the press invitation to Party Face, I didn’t even bother to read what the play was about. I saw the name Hayley Mills and knew I wanted to be there. I grew up loving her movies, from “Pollyanna” to “The Trouble with Angels.” I had never seen her onstage and actually don’t think I’ve seen her anywhere in half a century.
Unfortunately, seeing Mills was the best part of Isobel Mahon’s sit-com of a show at City Center Stage 2. Although well played by the cast, the characters are stereotypical, starting with Mills as Carmel, the pert, judgmental mother we’ve all seen too many times. Even her compliments have a ring of criticism, such as when she arrives at her daughter’s apartment in a Dublin suburb and comments on the vase of stargazer lilies.
“In my day, you never saw a lily outside of a funeral parlor,” she says, providing the first of the insults she’ll aim toward her downtrodden daughter Mollie (Gina Costigan), just returned from three weeks in a psychiatric hospital after having a nervous breakdown while gazing at cereal boxes in the supermarket. Mollie has invited her mother to see her newly finished kitchen extension.
“Is it a little clinical,” Carmel asks, before sweetly adding, “Of course, it’s all the rage now.”
Carmel has taken it upon herself to turn the occasion into a party, having invited Mollie’s narcissistic neighbor, Chloe (Allison Jean White), much to Mollie’s distress. Joining what is now becoming a gathering are Mollie’s supportive sister, Maeve (Brenda Meaney), and Bernie (Klea Blackhurst), an obsessive-compulsive woman Mollie met at the hospital.
As you would expect, anger builds on all sides, including the melodramatic mention of a long-dead baby, but this being a light — really light — comedy, all will be resolved in the end.
Director Amanda Bearse keeps the plot from getting too out-of-hand, but she could have made note of Mills’ Irish accent, which disappeared shortly after she walked through her daughter’s door. This was fine with me because I could hear in this now 71-year-old woman traces of the little girl whose voice and English accent I loved.
I’ll keep my memories of that Hayley and hope that if the grown-up one returns to New York to do another show, she can find a better one.