British satire play ‘Abigail’s Party’ revived at SF Playhouse

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There’s no better way to mark the almost-end of a season than with a party. Premiering in late May and running through early July at SF Playhouse is Mike Leigh’s renowned “Abigail’s Party,” a British satire and black comedy of terrible manners. The disco music is playing, the cigarettes are burning, the alcohol is brimming and the new middle class is ready to party.

“Abigail’s Party” is all about a party — just not the one that’s expected. For one, neither Abigail nor her party is ever seen. In fact, the rendezvous we’re attending takes place next door, in the perfect ’70s-chic home of materialists Laurence (Remi Sandri) and Bev (Susi Damilano) — a highly stressed businessman and his social-climbing temptress wife. Bev has invited over neighborhood newbies Angela (Allison Jean White) and Tony (Patrick Kelly Jones), a young couple also with their own obviously noticeable issues, and Sue (Julia Brothers), a recent divorcee banished from her teenage daughter Abigail’s house party down the street.

After several minutes of watching Bev prance around promiscuously to Donna Summers in a slinky green gown and a short prelude to her deeply troubled marriage with Laurence, the guests soon begin to arrive, and the bad manners start flowing. The next two hours are spent watching Bev flaunt her goods, blatantly vamp after “Tone” (Tony) and say all the wrong things to make her guests squirm in their seats. She touches on sensitive topics, pushes for the guests to smoke cigarettes and forces alcohol down everyone’s throats. As the play progresses, the shenanigans escalate and twist to a whole new level of darkness.

Originally premiering at the Hampstead Theatre in London in 1977, Mike Leigh’s “Abigail’s Party” has since seen numerous stage revivals and has also been turned into a TV movie. The script in itself is one fantastic piece of work, finding pure hilarity in painstakingly awkward social situations and vividly strained relationships. There is something ridiculously entertaining about watching the characters’ social miseries and drunken depravations play out in front of you. However, the dialogue may grow tiring with repetitiveness as the play spans.

SF Playhouse’s production isn’t completely polished and contains minor flaws. The most noticeable would be the slip-ups in British accents. However, this version of “Abigail’s Party” is spot-on in terms of comedic timing and staging from beginning to end under Amy Glazer’s direction. The characters are wonderfully colorful and brilliantly brought to life by the actors on stage — most notably by White as the mousy squeak “Ang” (Angela) and Jones as her gawkily stiff counterpart “Tone” (Tony), a man nearly vocally inept and seemingly capable only of grunts and “yeah”s.

The physical aesthetics of the production can also be lauded. Not only is the set designed fantastically by Bill English in pure gaudy swank with earth tones and dapper furniture befitting the era, but the costumes, designed by Tatjana Genser, are also an absolute romp.

“Abigail’s Party” will be playing until July 6 at SF Playhouse’s Post Street theatre. While the party taking place on stage is one that makes the attending guests want to run for the door, this will most definitely not be the case for the audience members. It is the miserable social affair of the season no one will want to miss.

Contact Michelle Lin at [email protected].