‘Abigail’s Party,’ ‘Realistic Joneses’ open
Aparty opens in a stiffly insensitive mood with members of the British middle class gathering over drinks.
But as the liquor flows and burns through their veins, all their obsessions, prejudices and fears flow in a ruthless torrent.
West End Productions reaches across the pond to stage “Abigail’s Party” at VSA North Fourth Art Center beginning on Friday, Sept. 22. The show plays for four weekends through Oct. 15.
Virtually unknown stateside, the play by film director Mike Leigh is considered a classic comedy of manners. It ranks No. 11 in the British Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest British television programs.
“He has a very specific style,” director Marty Epstein said. “He improvs. He builds a story and a play with improvisation. He created characters and had (the actors) improv through it.”
Laurence and Beverly are entertaining their new neighbors, Angela and Tony, as well as their divorced neighbor, Susan. Susan’s 15-year-old daughter, Angela, is hosting a party to which her mother is not invited.
Clichés and fatuous small talk cascade over drinks.
The play is a satire about the aspirations and tastes of the new middle class that emerged in Great Britain in
the 1970s. Leigh calls it a tragicomedy.
“It doesn’t read like a comedy,” Epstein said. “When we do some readthroughs, it’s hysterical. At best, it’s a dark comedy.
“It’s something like ‘Virginia Woolf.’ “There’s a lot of conflict between the couples. The comedy comes from (the audience) recognizing themselves in the situations.”
The marriage of Laurence and Beverly is middling at best.
“He’s really wanting to make lots of money,” Epstein said. “He’s a real estate agent over there. She’s kind of loosey-goosey. She doesn’t work. She doesn’t like her husband very much. She makes ‘He’s dead from the waist down’ comments.”
Beverly espouses the idea of freedom, yet she relentlessly bullies everyone into doing what she wrongly thinks is good for him or her. Laurence yearns for the highbrow, but Beverly just wants a good time –– and the goods.
As everybody gets loaded, all the things they would never say sober come flying out.
“You’re seeing how these couple are not happy with each other and not as high in the social classes as they want to be,” Epstein said. “It’s people today. It’s people letting go. It’s people really reacting.”
“Abigail’s Party” stars Tim Crofton, Jessica Osbourne, Colleen McClure, Laira Magnusson and Dean Squibb.
Leigh is the director of such films as “Life Is Sweet” (1990), “Topsy-Turvy” (1999), “Vera Drake” (2004) and “Mr. Turner” (2014).