Backyard Renaissance Gets Creative with the Production of the British Cult Classic: Abigail's Party

Currently Playing in Downtown San Diego Until March 19 

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

The Cast of Abigail's party. Photo Credit Daren Scott
Oh my God. To think you have seen practically everything and then, theatre does it again! I try to always go into a show not knowing what it is about so I do not gather any expectations. Abigail's Party was a multi-MULTI-layered piece that I was definitely not expecting, and definitely not ready for. 

A British play written by Mike Leigh that debuted in London in April of 1977. After great success, it had a summer revival and then became a filmed TV version for the BBC that turned into a cult classic. The plot takes place on the outskirts of London during the late seventies. Beverly Moss (Jessica John) invites her new neighbors, Angela (Liliana Talwatte) and Tony (Carter Piggee) over for drinks. She also invited her neighbor Sue (Michelle Marie Trester), whose fifteen-year-old daughter Abigail is holding a party at home. Beverly's husband Laurence (Francis Gercke) who is a real estate agent, comes home late from work, just before the guests arrive. He is not done yet with his workday and needs to do some calls, visit a client, and get some beers upon Beverly's request. Once the young married couple of angela and Tony arrive, things start scaling quickly while Beverly keeps pouring and pouring the alcohol. Sue is just practically there because Abigail her daughter told her to stay out during the party. Beverly is toned-down pushy. As the alcohol takes effect, she flirts more and more overtly with Tony who shamelessly corresponds, as Laurence sits impotently. After a very awkward set of living room slow dances, vomit, and confessions, Laurence starts talking about art and what it means to have good taste. Beverly insists on showing off a kitsch painting that she loves while Laurence cannot take it anymore and suffers a fatal heart attack.

L: Liliana Talwatte, Francis Gercke and Michelle Marie Trester. Photo Daren Scott

British humor has always been a complex one to digest for most of us westerners and this play is not the exception. With several things happening at the same time under Beverly's baton, she also throws a couple of disturbing statements about rape, statutory rape, and consent while being drunk. Jessica John as Beverly aside from looking absolutely stunning in that long dress and puffy hair was hilarious and relentlessly vicious. The ensemble work here is pretty awesome with a tight rhythm that certainly points to Rosina Reynold's direction as each actor gives their character its own flare and time to shine. Liliana Talwatte and Carter Piggee as the young couple of Angela and Tony are the perfect mismatches as Angela is strange yet very disclosed and Tony is the opposite. It would seem that these are easy roles to play but no, there definitely is an extensive body of work in place. Sue is the only character in this piece with common sense and all the other guests just absorb her with their shenanigans. Michelle Marie Trester is so good with calculated movement and glances that are highly comedic in a very subtle and classy way. Francis Gercke both as the actor and the character Laurence is a rockstar in the middle of all that histrionic, heavy chaos. 

Tony Cucuzzella's set design is psychedelically fantastic as is Jessica John Gercke's costume design. Um, hello full denim suit and thick stalkings. All of that wardrobe gave me life.

The Cast of Abigail's party. Photo Credit Daren Scott
The performance needs to be seen through the dark comedy lens in order to be grasped, understood, and therefore, enjoyed. Because the thing with this play is that it will most definitely make people very uncomfortable. But what happens with and after that?  In my case, there was an evident trigger of discomfort, followed by reflection and a conclusion. And there is where the beauty of the effort in producing this play, lies. Abigail's Party is sort of an inside, local British joke on things that were happening over there during that time. Like the negative yet not open reaction to a neighborhood that is becoming diverse, racism, marriage, divorce, and teenagers. Also what it means to follow the social norms and who sets all those standards and why do we have to follow them? Who sets up those bars and how high. Things that happened during the seventies in London but are still pretty relevant in 2022 over here. A lot of food for thought in an unpeeled onion kind of way that deserves a chance. It is a different type of content for sure.

Abigail's Party is currently playing at 10th Avenue Arts Center until March 19. Ticket prices range from $35-$40 dollars and there will be a special industry night performance on Monday, March 14. Click here for more information.

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