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Abigail’s Party

Upwardly mobile couple Beverly and Laurence play host to their equally dysfunctional neighbors: the cheerfully insensitive Angela (Laurie Stevens), her surly husband Tony (Gregg Rainwater) and the catatonically inhibited divorcee Sue (Beverly Auxier).

With:
Beverly ... Denise Poirier Laurence ... Todd R. Hansen Angela ... Laurie Stevens Tony ... Gregg Rainwater Sue ... Beverly Auxier Written in 1976, Mike Leigh's social comedy lays bare the suffocating limitations of lower-middle-class English life as personified by the grotesquely incompatible London suburbanites Beverly (Denise Poirier) and Laurence (Todd R. Hansen). Leigh, who wrote and directed the films "Naked" and "Life Is Sweet," displays a devastating wit as he unfolds a cruelly hilarious evening.

Upwardly mobile couple Beverly and Laurence play host to their equally dysfunctional neighbors: the cheerfully insensitive Angela (Laurie Stevens), her surly husband Tony (Gregg Rainwater) and the catatonically inhibited divorcee Sue (Beverly Auxier).

The Abigail of the title is Sue’s rebellious teen daughter, who has exiled mom from the house while she entertains her friends. Abigail and her companions are never seen, but their carefree revelry can be heard through the walls as Sue’s neighbor Beverly relentlessly attempts to orchestrate a “good time” for the adults.

Though the pacing drags in spots and the British accents occasionally seem forced, director Dane Holweger does an excellent job of guiding the ensemble through the nuances of a text that was developed by Leigh through rehearsed improvisation.

The director is aided immeasurably by the finely realized efforts of designers Denise Martinez (costumes), Dawn R. Ferry (lighting), Laura Finnegan (sound) and his own work as set designer. The dead-on suburban flat could be enshrined as a monument to bad taste.

The cast, despite the accent lapses, finds its way into the souls of these sadly incomplete beings. Poirier’s Beverly exudes the single-minded confidence of a well-fed boa constrictor as she slithers about her domain, smiling through clenched teeth but strangling any attempts to alter her concept of a fun evening.

As her workaholic husband, Hansen sweats unhappiness from every pore, feebly trying to stand up to his wife and impose some level of gentility on the evening and his life.

Stevens and Rainwater as Angela and Tony could almost be a black comedy version of George Burns and Gracie Allen, except for the characters’ underlying disdain for one another.

The face of Auxier, as the refined but fragile Sue, exhibits every nuance of the pain being inflicted on her by the grossly inferior company she is keeping.

Abigail's Party

Fountainhead Theatre, Hollywood; 85 seats; $ 12.50 top

Production: The Fountainhead Theatre Company and A Party! Prods. present the American premiere of a play in two acts by Mike Leigh; director, Dane Holweger; producers , Denise Poirier, Gregory Van Horn.

Creative: Sets, Holweger; lighting, Dawn R. Ferry; costumes, Denise Martinez; sound design, Laura Finnegan. Opened Feb. 10, 1994; reviewed Feb. 19; runs through March 19.

Cast: Beverly ... Denise Poirier Laurence ... Todd R. Hansen Angela ... Laurie Stevens Tony ... Gregg Rainwater Sue ... Beverly Auxier Written in 1976, Mike Leigh's social comedy lays bare the suffocating limitations of lower-middle-class English life as personified by the grotesquely incompatible London suburbanites Beverly (Denise Poirier) and Laurence (Todd R. Hansen). Leigh, who wrote and directed the films "Naked" and "Life Is Sweet," displays a devastating wit as he unfolds a cruelly hilarious evening.

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