Grist for the (Hayley) Mills


 Allison Jean White, Brenda Meaney, Hayley Mills, Gina Costigan, and Klea Blackhurst 
in Party Face. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

It would have been enough to witness Hayley Mills singing the first few lines of “Over the Rainbow,” which called to mind not only the young Judy Garland but also the young Hayley, she of the early 60s hits “Cobbler, Cobbler” and “Let’s Get Together” (her pitch wobbliness of that time making her all the more endearing). Or even just to hear that speaking voice, with its hint of a rasp and its still-youthful timbre.

When I was a child people often told me I looked like Mills, who as a Disney teenage star won a special “juvenile” Oscar for Pollyanna and was also known for The Parent Trap and other films. So I could not resist a chance to see my doppelgänger in an Off Broadway production of Party Face, by Isobel Mahon, directed by Amanda Bearse (Married... with Children).

But her singing was only one facet I and other audience members got to experience of the dynamo/diamond that is Mills, who grew up in a famous British theatrical family. Playing the mother of two adult daughters, she meddled comically, got angry, got drunk, and generally more than held her own in a night that involved Saran-wrapped pillows and male-genitalia topiary—and perhaps a few too many painful revelations among the women (only) who populate this play.

Set in a contemporary Dublin suburb, Party Face won the 2018 Irish Awards for best production and best actress (Mills). The playwright has said this about its form: “The large vessel that is comedy … can fit tragedy and it can fit pain and it can fit disaster.... Once it’s held in this sort of larger comedic vessel, you know somehow the world is okay. We can name the sorrows and still laugh.” Mahon is lucky to have such a glowing central figure to put this across. The writing often steps into very broad territory (catfight, anyone?), but trust Mills to show us the pathos behind it as her character, for example, listens to her daughter describe the beginning of her descent into mental illness.

If you'd like to see this for yourself, there’s still time to catch the show before its close, on April 8. With City Center’s intimate theater space (the stage is at ground level) and a comfy, pretty living-room/kitchen set by Jeff Ridenour—that gash in the marble counter will be explained—you may feel like joining the party yourself, though you’ll be safer at a distance, especially if you’re keeping any secrets! Come for Hayley, stay for the topiary (and Hayley).


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