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The former child star returns to the stage in a new dark comedy
Hayley Mills rocketed to fame as a teen in the 1960s in the Disney movies The Parent Trap and Pollyanna. But though she's the name draw in the all-female comedy Party Face, currently running at City Center Stage II, she's not demanding star treatment. In fact, she's sharing a tiny dressing room with the four other actresses in the play -- Gina Costigan, Klea Blackhurst, Brenda Meaney, and Allison Jean White -- and having a blast.
"We have a lot of laughs," says Mills, who has the looks and energy of a woman at least a decade younger than her 71 years. "It's especially lovely for me because my home is in London and it could be quite lonely, but I feel like I have a lot of girlfriends."
It's heartening to hear they enjoy such camaraderie offstage since the characters they play in Isobel Mahon's Dublin-set show aren't nearly as chummy. Mills portrays Carmel, the controlling mother to Mollie Mae (Costigan), a suicidal, fortysomething woman who's just been released from a mental institution. Although she's in no condition to party, her mother's forcing her to host one anyway to show off her renovated kitchen, and the guests include Mollie Mae's snarky sister, her haughty neighbor, and a new pal from the psych ward. What could go right?
While the play is snappy and witty (it's directed by sitcom vet Amanda Bearse of Married with Children fame), Mills has to go to some dark places as Carmel. As a real-life mom and grandmother, Mills can relate to her character in many ways, though she hopes she's less domineering. She says the costume really helps her get into the dysfunctional matriarch's head: pink satin pants and high heels, not something Mills would wear herself, but perfect for Carmel. "You have to get the clothes right," she says. "My father [Academy Award-winning British actor Sir John Mills] always said he had to get the shoes right first. As soon as he got the shoes then he felt he was on the way to finding the character. For me it's my hair. If I can get my hair right, I'm really on my way to feeling like that person."
Although Mills made her name in film and even won an Oscar as an adolescent, she's always had a passion for theatre, ever since she made her stage debut in 1969 as the title character in a revival of Peter Pan on the West End. "The first time I stepped on the stage I had only ever done movies, so that was a pretty terrifying experience," Mills admits. "I had to learn as I went along about moving onstage and projecting your voice and being aware of the audience, all that sort of thing. But I had always loved the theatre. I never went to drama school and there was a time when I regretted that. I didn't understand what it was that I'd done instinctively. So there was a while of insecurity and doubt."
Mills is much more comfortable on the boards these days. This may only be her third time on a New York stage -- after 2000's A Suite in Two Keys and a stint in The Vagina Monologues -- but she's worked in theatre for decades in her native England. However, this is the first show she's done with so many women: the playwright, the director, the entire cast -- the only two males around are the sound and scenic designers. And, from the way Mills describes it, backstage sounds like a real party.
"We go off and have a few drinks when the show's over in the evening sometimes, and we crack open a bottle of champagne at the end of the week," Mills says. "I'm not saying that if there had been another man that it wouldn't have been as good an experience. But the fact that it is all women and that everyone really gets on adds to the enjoyment."
To read about a student's experience at Party Face, check out this post on TDF's sister site SEEN.
Top image: Hayley Mills and Gina Costigan in Party Face. Photos by Jeremy Daniel.