Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

Abigail’s Party

By Mike Leighabigail's party by mike leight at a red orchid theatre

Directed by Shade Murray

At A Red Orchid Theatre

Strong cast makes tough material work

A Red Orchid Theatre loves to find emotionally wrenching, rarely produced plays. They found British playwright/filmmaker Mike Leigh’s 1977 comedy of suburban manners – Abigail’s Party. This is a British version of Edward Albee’s  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, set in 1977 in a new suburb of London  (terrific 70’s style set by Daniel Stratton). All the ingredients are present–the mouthy, bored housewife-Beverly (Kristen Fitzgerald), the cold-as-ice husband-Laurence (the understated Larry Grimm).  The couple are hosting a cocktail party just down the block from Abagail’s teenage party. Susan (the terrific expressionless Natalie West), Abagail’s timid mother  attends  the  “grown-ups” cocktail party as do the newbie couple-Angela (Mierka Girten)-a not-too-smart nurse and her ex-footballer husband- Tony (Danny McCarthy).

abigail's party by mike leight at a red orchid theatre

This cocktail party is a vehicle for the opinionated, manipulative Beverly to both express her warped views of society, marriage and contemporary living-but as fertile grounds to nag, insult and harass her husband. Beverly is bored with her life, especially with her frigid husband.

abigail's party by mike leight at a red orchid theatre

The party starts out with each attendee being stiff and uncomfortable as Beverly starts her wicked, caustic remarks. But as the  drinks keep flowing, petty competition becomes fierce rendering loads of wicked humor and biting satire. As social relationships are laid bare exposing the obsessions, prejudices, dreams and aspirations–each guest lets their pent-up angst out in the open.

abigail's party by mike leight at a red orchid theatre

But the main battle is between Larry and Beverly– expertly played by Larry Grimm and the much-in-control Kristen Fitzgerald. We witness her pain, anger and frustration resulting from a boring,  loveless marriage.  This humor builds toward a shocking ending that leaves all changed forever.

This is as fine an ensemble work as you’ll find. This wonderful Equity cast nails the dark humor while slowly allowing their true thoughts to emerge.  Abagail’s Party is a master class on acting from swift comic timing to honest character portrayals.


Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells, Chicago, IL, call 312-943-8722, , tickets $25 – $30, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through May 23, 2010

One thought on “Abigail’s Party

  • Joseph Goins

    Well, I wouldn’t call it the English “WAVW?”. And your review seems more a review of the filmed play version than what I saw on stage last weekend. Yes, Beverly is played as a mouthy, bored housewife but she wasn’t played as a clearly manipulative character as in the filmed version. She played the role as defined by the words of the play, rather than the essence of the words–this is not a good thing. Fortunately the writing is very funny, and the comic timing was often “on” in the play, but Beverly was one dimensional–words only. And this interferes with understanding the dynamics between her and her husband Only through the written and spoken words would the audience understand anything of the relationship, not through gestures or chemistry. With these lacking, the ending seems out of place. Yes, Ms Fitzgerald used her body as a comic device, but never do you sense the chill or distance she really harbors for her husband and her neighbors. It’s Beverly’s world, she’s just allowing you (us) in it for a little while. The dalliance with Tony seemed overplayed, for pure comedic effect only. Then we get to the shocking ending, and in this version you should have seen it coming–what, with all the shouting and daggers being thrown. I think this is the American, suburban version of the play that certainly didn’t work with English accents.

    Indeed the audience loved it, but critically it achieved a mediocrity that warranted the venue.

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