ABIGAIL’S PARTY a dynamic resurrection at SF Playhouse

Full cast: Angela (Allison Jean White*) Tony (Patrick Kelly Jones*), Sue (Julia Brothers*) Bev (Susi Damilano), and Laurence (Remi Sandri*)
Photos by Jessica Palopoli

ABIGAIL’S PARTY: Comedy by Mike Leigh and directed by Amy Glazer. SF Playhouse, 450 Post Street, @ Powell, San Francisco, CA 94102 . 415.677.9596 or www.sfplayhouse.org.

May 21 to July 6, 2013

ABIGAIL’S PARTY a dynamic resurrection at SF Playhouse

English drama underwent a critical change in the 60s and 70s with plays being infused with social conscience depicting ordinary people. Early on in that era the noted Arnold Wesker wrote a play titled The Kitchen Sink and that was partially the origin of the term “kitchen sink realism.”  Mike Leigh a contemporary of Wesker’s, but 10 years younger, was nurtured in that milieu and Abigail’s Party, written 35 years ago in 1977, is part of that genre.

Probably a major difference is the intellectual construct of the play that became Leigh’s unique methodology. Rather than write a finished script he started with improvisation after selecting actors for specific roles and allowing them to interact spontaneously. When they had sufficiently “become” that character, Leigh produced a script. So it was with Abigail’s Party. By using this method the final product did have minor topical social significance but truly was a script for directors and actors to demonstrate their wares.

SF Playhouse, in their trademark over-the-top productions, has grasped that quality and under Amy Glazer’s tight but free form direction with brilliant actors has come up with a sparkling production unfolding on another of Bill English’s fantastic sets.  That set is symbolic of the upward mobile “wannabes” of English society reflecting wealth without artistic taste.

The occupants of the house are financially successful and hyperactive estate agent Laurence (Remi Sandri) and his trophy wife Beverly (seductive Susi Damilano).  They are giving a cocktail party, complete with Hors d’oeuvre that include toothpick skewered pineapple-cheese  bites and music that includes a Donna Summer record. Significantly, in a clever plot twist that actually defines a trait in Laurence’s character there are no olives out on the huge coffee table.

Presumably, the reason for the party is to get to know the neighbors.  Angela (Allison Jean White) a nurse and Tony a husky working class bloke (Patrick Kelly Jones) have moved into the upward mobile area two weeks ago. The other guest is Susan (Julie Brothers) divorced 2 years ago whose 15 year old daughter Abigail (who never appears but is tied into a significant plot twist) is having a party at her home down the street.

In the opening scene Laurence has returned home late and in their banter is the first suggestion that their marriage is a bit tenuous. The neighbors are virtually strangers so why were they invited? Apparently for Laurence to display his artistic/affluence showing off his leather bound set of Dickens’ work, his garish overstuffed leather furniture and his love of classical music. Beverly’s motive is not specifically identified but apparently is an attempt to seduce Tony. After the alcohol takes effect, she overtly flirts with Tony.

That is the simple storyline that unfolds in less than two hours in two acts with an intermission. It is the acting that is absolutely superb making this show a must, must see production. Susi Damilano’s in a form fitting, bodice displaying gown exudes sexual attraction as bounces around the stage and garners your attention. The non-verbal performances of Julie Brothers and Patrick Kelly Jones who have minimal dialog would rate Tony Awards. Allison Jean White who initially is a motor-mouth dingbat for most of the evening swings into a gyrating dance late in the play bringing gales of laughter.  When the crisis occurs she switches demeanor adroitly taking charge as the virtual curtain descends.

Kedar Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com