Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Stephanie's review of The Realistic Joneses
Set in the late 1970s, Leigh's play takes place on the Essex side of London. Leigh developed the play using improvisation, allowing each of the original actors to create the backstory of their characters. Leigh was influenced by American filmmaker John Cassavetes, who used improvisational techniques in films such as Woman Under the Influence. While Leigh may have used improvisation to develop the drama, by the time it reached the stage and British TV, the script was a tight machine.
While the evening starts out relatively benign, heavy drinking brings out the ferocity of these seemingly quiet neighbors. The alcohol breaks down their inhibitions as we watch the seams coming apart in the two marriages. While at first these two couples are kind and inviting, by the second act, they're snarling at each other. Susan is not used to drinking with the fierceness of the others and slips into sickness while the other four drink their way into anger and disgust.
Imagine Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with all the meanness of George and Martha but none of the intellectual dynamo. Poor divorced Susan ends up somewhat of a stooge as the two couples reveal the disappointments and frustrations of their marriages. As the night roars on, we get a deeper look into the despair and chaos of these otherwise gentle and intact suburbanites. The nastiness comes as a surprise, since the evening begins with light and trite conversation. Yet the conflict is just a taste of further surprises to come as the play stands up and roars.
Marty Epstein has put together a terrific ensemble of actors. Colleen McClurethe founder of West End Productionsis fabulous as Beverly. Her wry and bitter wit is the center of this living-room battleground. Tim Crofton delivers a wonderfully doofus in Laurence, who is not quite up to Beverly's sarcasm. He responds to her pseudo-sophistication with blunt force.
Jessica Osbourne plays Angela as the merry ditz who doesn't quite get that her husband is screamingly bored with her. Dean Squibb as Tony delivers the kind of husband who rolls his eyes at most of what his wife says. These are not lovely people, but the actors are having a riot putting them through their paces. Laira Magnusson as Susan is just lovely as the lost Susan. She watches the horror of these two thorny marriages and seems to not quite understand what's playing out before her. Magnusson plays Susan as a pleasant sap who is dragged into the evening's sickness. All of these actors are lovely to watch.
As always, Epstein's direction is confident and his pacing is just right, throwing us curves here and there as the characters drag us into their muck. Kudos to the production crew. The set design by Dean Squibb is perfect, right down to the Elvis hits album (which I own too!). The accents, lighting, music, everything works. Ray Orley (a wonderful Albuquerque actor) lends a hand as dramaturge. Excellent job, all.
Abigail's Party, at the VSA North Fourth Art Center at 4904 4th St. NW, Albuquerque NM. through October 15, 2017. Performances are at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00 pm on Sundays. Admission is $22 for online purchases; $18 for ATG members, students, and seniors (62+); and $25 for at-the-door. Tickets and be purchased at westendproductions.org or by calling 410-8524.