The term “Boston marriage” refers to a relationship between two women considered both emotionally and physically intimate. After watching David Mamet’s silver-tongued play of the same title, one would infer the term “Boston marriage” to mean an agreement between two women with too much time and no soul. Deliciously witty. Historically scandalous. Tiresomely shallow.
Mamet, whose critics once charged him incapable of writing work for women, responded with this Victorian-era endeavor centered completely around the “fairer sex.” Men are mentioned in passing, either as a nuisance, a roadblock, or a bore.
The story unfolds around Anna, a lady of leisure in need of two things: a clueless male provider and the heart –or more importantly, body – of her longtime lover, Claire. Conflict arises when Claire reveals that she has her eye on a young, new object of desire, sending Anna into a petulant, three-act pout. Plans are devised. Unscrupulous demands are made. Insults are hurled. And so on.
Mamet showcases himself in this piece as a true wordsmith, and the music of his dialogue can’t be denied. Nearly every written line is painstakingly sharp, smooth on the surface while cutting directly to the bone. It is here that Mamet hands to the baton the actors, which gets carried as often as it gets dropped in this well-intentioned but mixed bag of a production.
The ensemble works well together, a requirement to carry a three-person piece such as this. The true gem of the production, though, is Catherine, Anna’s maid whose disarming comic timing is both verbally and physically on the mark. Anna delights the audience by merely entering and exiting a scene, and her Scottish accent is a must-hear experience within itself.
The comic impact wanes throughout the show, however, and the demands of the text seem at times too great for the cast to handle, which wears down the production considerably. The show’s modest run time suffers from fatigue, leaving the finale to feel slightly overdue and exhausted.
At the play’s conclusion, the audience is left to decide whether they even care what becomes of the characters at hand (though Catherine sparks obvious audience affection and compassion). Are they charmingly depraved? Are they spoiled and irrelevant? Are they willful women acting out of frustration under the severe constraints of a man’s world? It’s a loaded question and a tough call, but there are enough laughs sprinkled throughout Boston Marriage to keep the answer inconsequential.
Boston Marriage has three more performances at the Spooky Action Theater, Universalist National Memorial Church, 1810 16th St, NW, Washington, DC.
Sarah rates this 3 out of 5
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