David Mamet’s Boston Marriage, currently playing at Theatre Intime on the Princeton University campus, is Mr. Mamet’s 1999 response to his critics who claimed he couldn’t create plausible, compelling female characters. The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, best known for his gritty depictions of foul-mouthed crooks or real estate con men or unscrupulous Hollywood tycoons in such plays as American Buffalo (1975), Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) and Speed-the-Plow (1988), journeyed to a new world — of Victorian women in their elegant drawing room — when he wrote Boston Marriage.
As with the talking dog at the carnival, where we should certainly not worry too much about what he says or how he says it but simply admire the fact that he talks at all; perhaps with Boston Marriage, we should simply applaud the fact that Mr. Mamet has created three female characters here who carry on in a distinctively feminine, oddly Oscar Wildean, vein for the duration of this two-act comedy.
The vulgar interjections, incongruously interspersed amidst the high-flown Victorian posturing, and some cleverly smutty punning, provide excellent comic moments. Mamet fans may also recognize a certain cold cynicism and wickedly realistic tenor to the relationships between characters here, but otherwise Boston Marriage bears little resemblance to Mr. Mamet’s major earlier works.
Yes, he answered his critics, and even provided a sort of feast of wit and clever language. But lapses in plausibility, character depth, and dramatic tension here will make Mamet fans yearn for the grit, testosterone, and realism of his earlier theatrical endeavors.
“Boston marriage,” a term emerging from Henry James’ novel The Bostonians, was used to describe late 19th century households where two women lived together, perhaps in a sexual relationship, perhaps not, apparently independent of any male support.
The relationship between Anna (Anne Sherrington) and Claire (Bridget Durkin) in Mr. Mamet’s Boston Marriage is definitely sexual, and the play does include an array of sexual commentary, innuendo, and intrigues. More important to this plot than sexual issues, however, are these women’s social, emotional and material needs, as they
work out their lives on the fringes of society.
Anna has just become the mistress of a wealthy man, from whom she has received a large emerald necklace and the resources to support her elegant life style.
Theatre Intime's production of David Mamet's Boston Marriage will play Thursday through Saturday, September 28-30, at 8 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on September 30, in the Hamilton Murray Theater. Call 609-258-1742 or visit www.princeton.edu/utickets for tickets and further information.
ANNA: He worships me. What could go awry?
CLAIRE: Has he, for example, a wife?
ANNA: Why would he require a mistress if he had no wife? Of course he has a wife.
Claire, who has fallen in love with a young lady of the upper class, asks Anna to provide her residence as a meeting place. The jealous Anna insists on participating in the rendezvous.
The young lady in question suddenly arrives at the door (just off stage) at the end of Act One, and a clever twist in the plot throws the two women’s romantic and financial lives into disarray. Frenetic scheming ensues amidst continual linguistic jousting. The Scottish maid Catherine (Catherine Adams) enters and exits sporadically, first to undergo comically outrageous taunts and abuse, then to join the fray in the second act with her own romantic problems.
As Anna and Claire find their machinations exposed, they struggle to concoct a “Byzantine rodomontade” to provide “a fig leaf of propriety,” “a mantle of decency” to cover their scandalous behavior.
Ms. Durkin, whose character Claire is more down-to-earth and less flamboyant than her counterpart, handles the verbal juggling and witty repartee with skill and understanding. Amidst all the posing, game-playing and dancing verbiage, she is consistently lucid and engaging. She succeeds in creating a plausible three-dimensional character.
Anna, the more emotional and effusive of the two, is a more difficult part to bring across, and Ms. Sherrington is not always clear in diction or convincing in characterization. Ms. Adams provides comical interruptions to the main action, though her Scottish accent is sometimes difficult to understand. The language here is rich and colorful and requires more close attention than most contemporary audiences are accustomed to provide.
Matthew Campbell’s drawing room set, with subtly effective lighting by William Ellerbe, is tasteful and suitably elegant, though perhaps more modern than Victorian.
Katherine Miller’s costumes help to contrast the characters and to establish the period, though Anna’s pink and white silk dress is a less than ideal fit.
Princeton University senior Elizabeth Abernethy has directed her three undergraduate actresses intelligently and kept this highly literate, loquacious piece moving at a reasonable pace to deliver a light, entertaining evening of theater. Just leave your expectations of David Mamet at home, and be ready to enter the frothy, late nineteenth century society world more reminiscent of Oscar Wilde and Edith Wharton (without the serious social commentary).
Return to Top | Go to Jean Stratton's Columns