An English play written in 1977 about tasteless middle-class people would normally be greeted with a smile and a nod or two. It was that way the last time Mike Leigh's "Abigail's Party" came through town in 1998 at the old Aurora. But this time San Francisco Playhouse has an ace up its sleeve -- Susi Damilano. She may have born to play the role of Bev. A fine comic actor, Damilano allows Bev to be so crass and oblivious that you would strangle her if you could stop laughing. The crasser she gets, as when she is dancing seductively with Tony (Patrick Kelly Jones), the more we gasp. Damilano and the rest of this fine cast make a lightweight play memorable.
Jones, with his barely contained disgust for both his wife and the party he has been forced to attend, and Remi Sandri as Lawrence, Bev's henpecked real-estate salesman husband, give a strong undercurrent to the story. Angela (Allison Jean White) and Sue (Julia Brothers) have no defense against Bev's aggressiveness. They sit and watch as Bev realizes her goal to to get everyone drunk so she can torment her husband.
Amy Glazer directs. The show is a true two act play and longer than we are used to seeing these days, but does not drag. And you get a surprise ending which, thinking about it later, isn't really much of a surprise. If you were Lawrence, you'd do it too.
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Abigail's Party" Three Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. The cast, direction and story earn one star each and Damilano's performance brings home the Bangle. Nobody takes the easy way out -- Amy Glazer does not allow Damilano to leave character for an instant, nor does Julia Brothers stand up and scream as we might expect. One word of warning: they smoke real cigarettes and cigars. Some of us love it. Be aware.
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (2d floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
Through May 24