note: entire contents copyright 2007 by Carl A. Rossi
Beverly … Emmy Lou Diaz
Laurence … Neil Patrick Stewart
Angela … Nicole Muller
Tony … Tim Wynn
Susan … Jacqueline Brechner
Mike Leigh’s ABIGAIL’S PARTY is a clever stunt, cleverly pulled off: two married couples (Beverly and Lawrence; Angela and Tony) and a divorcee (Susan) get together for an evening and become more and more intoxicated with tragicomic results (the title character is Susan’s daughter throwing her first bash, offstage). The parallels between Mr. Leigh’s comedy and Mr. Albee’s WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? are obvious --- the dominatrix and her hen-pecked husband; the stud and his ninny wife --- but where Mr. Albee celebrated the dark side of marriage, Mr. Leigh skewers the pretensions of England’s nouveau riche society of the late 1970s --- those who “get” what Mr. Leigh is up to will find ABIGAIL’S PARTY hilarious while others may wonder will the small-talk ever build up to something profound but, then, the same charge can be leveled at Mr. Chekhov….
Last year I saw the brilliant New York production with Jennifer Jason Leigh as Beverly; if I declare that production to be definitive (more so than the filmed version starring the original London cast), it is because the way it was directed --- i.e., poker-faced reality --- is the only way that ABIGAIL’S PARTY works. Arthur Nauzyciel of France, whose “unique directing style breaks traditional boundaries of this art form and expands the definition of theater”, retains the British accents and late 70s fashion and décor for Act One, indulging in only a few tweaks, and on the afternoon I attended, the packed house laughed heartily --- they indeed “got” what Mr. Leigh was up to. Mr. Nauzyciel expands full-force in Act Two where the characters and their environment are updated to Today (the actors lose their accents in transit): cocaine snorting commences, the humor abandons the drunken-genteel for the edgy-stoned and Lawrence now conducts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the nude (this is the A.R.T., remember). I cannot see why such expansion is necessary when Act One is so spot-on and in period, to boot, and boasts a student cast that is a golden variation on the New York one; the decline in the audience’s laughter seconded my thoughts --- they weren't having fun at this party, anymore. Those first encountering ABIGAIL’S PARTY, here, may leave thinking Mr. Nauzyciel is simply carrying out Mr. Leigh’s orders which he does, up to a point; after intermission, Mr. Nauzyciel listens only to Mr. Nauzyciel.
[A word of advice to spotless actors who are thinking of getting tattooed: don’t, for you never know when you may have to bare all for your art as Neil Patrick Stewart currently does as Lawrence. Mr. Stewart sports three tattoos on his person; if they are temporary ones thanks to further expanding from Mr. Nauzyciel, I beg his pardon --- Mr. Stewart’s, not his director’s.]