Not every piece by brilliant artists is great. Mike Leigh's late-1970s play is characteristically thought-provoking but more puzzling than his later works. What are we to make of the five working-class Londoners at Beverly and Laurence's handsome, spacious wood-and-leather home (Charles Erven), while the titular party is taking place next door to the onstage party?
Director Julian Holloway certainly sees farce in the script. Bits of business are repeated even past the time they become annoying. Characters go above and beyond types. And yet the actors reflect strong undercurrents among the characters, giving a serious and somewhat mysterious feel to the production. Horns almost lock, but the dialogue goes on placidly. We're never quite sure which of her guests our hostess lusts after. Those guests are consistently unconvincing in describing their existences. It's a slice of unpleasant but unfortunately common life, heightened for theatricality but not particularly elucidating. Even by intermission, we're not clear on the concept. But that concept at least gives five actors the opportunity for ample characterizations.
Nikki Glick plays Beverly, the overexcited hostess, figuratively licking her chops as the evening wears on. As neighbor Angela, Phoebe James arcs nicely, getting more drunk as the party wears on, beginning to hilariously groove to the tunes of the period, then expertly dancing "badly." Darren Richardson and Jonathan LaPaglia play the husbands — with a lot of "something" going on that we'll never know but that keeps us fascinated. And as the newcomer to the group, Cerris Morgan-Moyer oozes strangeness, sitting still and staring blankly, nonplussedly, fearfully.
All the characters smoke. Unfortunately, at least on opening weekend, the stench was overwhelming, despite the theatre's efforts to ventilate. In a way, it added to our feeling that we'd been at an awfully strange party.
Presented by Sally Essex-Lopresti in association with Ron Sossi and at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., L.A. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. (Also Wed. 8 p.m. Sep. 24 and Oct. 1 & 8. Sun. 7 p.m. only Sep. 28.) Aug. 23-Oct. 19. (310) 477-2055. www.odysseytheatre.com.