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Hayley Mills Is Still A “Party Face” At New York’s City Center

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

Hayley Mills

Hayley Mills

Is Still A “Party Face” At New York’s City Center

by Brad Balfour

When the question’s been asked: “Where are they now?,” actress Hayley Mills’ name often has come up. Remembered for winning an Oscar when she was 14 for playing the title role in Disney’s Pollyanna, the now 71-year-old is not just a “once-known.” The British born and bred actress continues to work and is working hard. Witness her presence as the lead in Party Face, a new comedy which ran since previews began January 11th – with Opening Night on January 22nd – until this April 8th at NYC’s City Center Stage II.

Written by Irish playwright Isobel Mahon, Party Face has played in Ireland to strong reviews and ovations in sold-out theaters. The all-female, wickedly farcical play brings together TV star Amanda Bearse in her directorial debut with film legend Mills – off-Broadway after a long absence from the NYC stage. Set in a particularly upscale Irish suburb during the Celtic Tiger economic bubble, this party isn’t exactly a celebration but a biting satire detailing the clash of the upwardly mobile with the terminally depressed and dispossessed.

Mills plays Carmel, mother to Mollie Mae (Gina Costigan) and Maeve (Brenda Meaney), who slathers over the wreckage of her daughters’ lives with gourmand appetizers and a stiff smile. Careful plans are upended when Mill’s character blithely brings her own food and new best friend to join the party – which turns out to be centered on the daughter’s impending divorce. They put on their “party faces,” but when the banter ends, the emotional crash occurs among all the participants. Tears and laughter alternate as the revelations flow. This play illustrates the self-deceptions we employ to convince ourselves and others we’ve got it together rather than accept our imperfect selves.

Returning to the NY stage for the first time since 2000, Mills previously starred off-Broadway in Noël Coward’s A Suite in Two Keys. The younger daughter of actor Sir John Mills and writer Mary Hayley Bell, Mills played twins in Disney’s 1961 hit comedy The Parent Trap and was a teen star in the comic The Trouble with Angels. She also starred in the 1981 BBC series The Flame Trees of Thika.

Reflects the gregarious star, “With a dad such as mine, glorious people like Noël Coward, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh were always in and out of our house. Looking back, it was inevitable that I was going to act. Both my parents were actors and the acting world was normal to me as we’d always be at the theatre watching my father.”

Though a teenager when she won the Oscar, her start came earlier. “I made my film debut in Tiger Bay when I was 12. It was completely by accident – my dad had a role in it and the director came to lunch and spotted me. He’d been looking to cast a young boy, but as I had short hair I got the job. I loved every minute, particularly filming in the Bristol Channel and being evacuated because the sea was so rough. We were winched over the railings in a harness, which I thought was terribly exciting, but poor Mum fainted.”

She adds, “I won a BAFTA for that, then came Pollyanna and the Oscar. I went on to make six films for Walt Disney who was a wonderful man – he genuinely loved children and found them interesting. I had a great run with him.”

Klea Blackhurst and Hayley Mills in “Party Face”

But to wrangle with such a matriarch as Carmel, it took a director with a substantial experience playing unruly characters such as Bearse – best known for her prickly role on the hit TV series Married… With Children.

As Bearse noted elsewhere, “I’m a super fangirl of Hayley Mills. I grew up watching her in the ’60s and ’70s and the characters that she played were such powerful images for me. Outspoken, self-aware young girls in an era when that wasn’t always welcome. When the script got to Hayley we had our fingers crossed.”

Though Bearse and Mills come from different corners of the acting community, both share a taste for comedy about human foibles. Acknowledges the diminutive Mills, “We’re roaring one minute and then suddenly something absolutely heartbreaking happens. One things I love and admire so much about Isobel’s writing is the balance she strikes. [These characters] all have lots of difficult and tragic things going on in their lives, and we see how they cope with them.”

Hayley understood what was going on with it all given that she has grown children of her own. “I think it’s a very human reaction, whatever generation you are that when things are really ghastly and painful you say, ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’ The only way [Carmel] thought she could survive was to have the attitude that everything’s fine! But in the end, as with most of us, life catches up.”

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: January 15, 2018.

Photos ©2018. Courtesy of City Center Stage II. All rights reserved.

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