I have a soft spot for the drawing room plays by Oscar Wilde, Somerset Maughan, and the like. With ready wit they provide amusing takedowns of bourgeois society, its conventions and hypocrisy. David Mamet is also a fan, as is evident in his modernized entry at the genre, BOSTON MARRIAGE, presented at Plays and Players Theater by 1812 Productions.
Anna (Suzanne O’Donnell) is a society lady who uses all her feminine guile to secure the comforts of a well-kept mistress. When Claire (Grace Gonglewski) pays a visit, Anna is delighted at the chance to share her fortune with an old friend. But Claire has come seeking help with a clandestine love affair whose consequences will threaten both of them. Attending the absurd maneuverings is Catherine (Caroline Dooner), Anna’s mistreated Scottish maid.
Amusing if not hilarious, BOSTON MARRIAGE is clever like a school show-off. Though rejecting reading or culture, the characters are in love with words and language, and the play would be a good study guide to GRE vocabulary. Caustic lines of contemporary frankness intersperse period language.
CLAIRE: I’ve forgotten what I was going to say
ANNA: Say something else… For what is speech
CLAIRE: I had often thought, it is as the chirping of the birds, minus their laudable disinterestedness.
ANNA: Oh what a vast, oh what a vast and pointless sh*thole it all is.
CLAIRE: What would that be?
ANNA: Our lives.
It’s hard to know what Mamet is aiming for here. Is he mocking Wildean comedy? Saluting but twisting it? Exploring how social pressures stifle and dictate sexual roles (the title is a Victorian term for a close, marriage like relationship between two women)? Or just having fun and showing off his range and virtuosity? At times Claire and Anna seem fully formed modern characters, trapped in the hypocrisy of the age, but the play forbids us from taking them or their concerns too seriously.
Though fun, the production does little to clear confusion. The action plays out in a wittily ostentatious living room: an elegant set by designer Adam Rigger, well lighted by James Leitner. Jennifer Childs’ direction plays up the speed and wit of a traditional drawing room comedy. O’Donnell and Gonglewski delight in their roles, and they have been given free reign to have fun (more guidance might have been beneficial in places). With well choreographed and welcome appearances, Dooner is allowed to steal the show from her more experienced colleagues.
1812 Productions is committed to fine comedy theater in Philadelphia, and this feels very much like an 1812 take on Mamet. Fans of the company will not be disappointed. April 26–May 20, 2012, 1812Productions.org.
Previously published on Stage Magazine.