A Red Orchid Theatre presents
At 1531 N. Wells
Written by Mike Leigh
Directed by Shade Murray
Thru May 23rd
Running Time: Two hours includes a ten minute intermission
Neighbors are like your family. You don’t get to choose them but you have to live with them. What helps you get through the awkward gatherings? Alcohol. Lots of alcohol! A Red Orchid Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of Abigail’s Party. Playwright Mike Leigh has penned a 1970’s British comedy about what happens when you mix alcohol and conversation. All the guests have hit the three year mark. Either married or divorced three years. Drinking and driving the party, Beverly is a wannabe swinger struggling with her classical music-loving husband, Lawrence. Newcomers Angela and Tony eagerly step across the welcome mat to Bev’s world. Trapped between parties, Susan can’t go home because her daughter is having her own bash. Abigail’s Party puts you under the influence with free flowing comedy and shots of relationship mayhem.
Pushing the drinks and cocktail party boundaries, Kirsten Fitzgerald (Beverly) is a hilarious hostess without any self awareness. Dancing to her own tune, Fitzgerald assumes an air of familiarity with strangers, “Ang”, “Tone”, and “Sue” while distancing herself from her spouse “Lawrence.” Fitzgerald is side-splitting magnificent as she goes from buzzed to trashed. Head bobbing, scab talking, Mierka Girten (Angela) is the party diz. Girten’s wide-eyed innocence is a delightful comic balance to Fitzgerald’s bullying. Natalie West (Susan) is amusing as the party victim. As the timid lightweight, West channels her old Roseanne roots with a British-speaking Crystal.
The sets (Daniel Stratton) and costumes (Melissa Torchia) are 1970’s groovy. Yellow leather, bright colored polyester, record player, it sets the mood for the party flashback. Unfortunately, the furniture is also the party pooper. Most of the action takes place with characters sitting down. In a space with visual challenges, I miss a big chunk of the show from my middle theatre vantage point. In fact, when a pivotal scene goes to the floor… forget about it! Luckily, the dialogue is brilliant and I pretend it’s a radio program.
Substitute “seriously” for “honestly” and “right?” for “yeah?” and the show transcends the fifty years across the pond. Simply put, it’s a hoot! Sometimes you just want to drink too much and have a good laugh, seeing Abigail’s Party is just that minus the hangover!
Always the perfect party planner, Jen says this about the show, “It’s good to be reminded why you shouldn’t have too many toppers (whether you decide to heed the warning or not).”
WAITING FOR THE SHOW
Before heading to a party where there will be a lot of drinking, it’s always a good idea to eat something. We choose Eivissa, 1531 N. Wells, A Red Orchid Theatre neighbor. Not wanting to be fashionably late to the party, we inform the bartender/server that we have a forty-five minute to enjoy his recommended tapas. Eivissa is not busy and he delivers our drinks and first of six tapas instantly. Grilled octopus with roasted potatoes… delicious. Eivissa is still not busy but #2 and #3 arrive twenty minutes later. The goat cheese in tomato sauce is yummy but the marinated vegetable stack is bland and cold. #4 tapa, a calamari casserole with an overpowering hot sauce, appears with ten minutes left. We cancel the remaining two and ask for the bill. Eivissa is the kind of party that initially dazzles with all kinds of possibilities (1/2 price tapas before 7pm) but later duds out because it can’t deliver the good times fast enough.
Production photographs from “Abigail’s Party” by Michael Brosilow