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A CurtainUp Review
In Boston Marriage, Mamet has abandoned grunge for elegance, and gritty verbal exchanges for the high flown parlor talk of two Victorian ladies whose relationship typifies the living arrangements of many unmarried women of the period and most famously fictionalized in Henry James' novel, The Bostonians.
Though Henry James and Oscar Wilde seem more likely authors for comedy of manners than David Mamet, Anna and Claire are very much Mamet's own creatures. What James left implicit about Boston marriages is very much explicit in the verbal ping-pong game played in Anna's parlor. There's no question as to these women's sexual preferences, nor are they too refined to send colloquialisms and curses flying freely over the net ("You want me to be your beard?" . . . " You pagan slut". . . "evil old bitch". . . ). Men are necessary evils for those short on ready cash or as Anna bluntly puts it you can do "Just the One Thing" with them and that a case of "In like a Lion, out like a Lamb."
It's clear that Mamet is having a ball turning back the clock to be Wilde-ly witty and at the same time indulging his penchant for less refined language. What's more underneath all that mannered and clever repartee, Anna and Claire are as much like the scam-sters in American Buffalo as Gwendolyn and Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest.
The scam that Mamet has concocted is full of absurdities leading to an O'Henry-like twist at the end. The plot, in a nutshell, is this:
To supplement her income with a monthly stipend and gifts such as the heirloom necklace she is wearing when we first see her, Anna has become the mistress of a wealthy married man (as Anna explains his marital status: "would he require a mistress if he had no wife? "). Claire wants Anna to not only accept that she's fallen in love with a young girl, but to allow the seduction to take place in her home. After much bantering and with considerable regret Anna agrees. When Claire's new love wonders how her mother's heirloom necklace ended around Anna's neck both the practical alliance and the new romance are threatened, prompting Anna and Claire to concoct a scheme to solve their dilemma, naturally, a scheme sure to be fraught with mishaps.
With Kate Burton and Martha Plimpton, resplendent in Paul Tazwell's waist cinching outfits and Paul Huntley's wigs, this third production of Boston Marriage (it opened at Boston's Hasty Pudding Club and also had a run at London's Donmar Warehouse), is blessed with two delightful dueling partners. Burton's comedic skills are familiar to me from some of her Williamstown Theatre Festival appearances. As Anna she outdoes herself in landing a veritable feast of witty lines with perfectly timed flair. If she is a bit too pretty and young looking to play an aging woman, she nevertheless captures the desperation that makes Anna willing to leave no trick untried that will help her to keep her lover. Plimpton, who last charmed audiences as the spunky, no-nonsense Maggie in Hobson's Choice is aptly acerbic yet besotted as Claire.
Knowing that every drawing room comedy needs a maid, Mamet has created Catherine (Arden Myrin, amusing though not quite experienced enough to turn her role into the scene stealer it could be). She serves tea, wields an occasional feather duster and relays messages from visitors such as Claire's paramour and a stove repairman. Mostly she's there as a foil for the self-involved mistress who keeps forgetting her name and insults her for being Irish even though she's Scotch.
Since Lizzie Loveridge saw Boston Marriage in London, the ninety minutes has gained some fifteen minutes plus an intermission. This parlor garm simply doesn't warrant this expanded treatment, and in fact becomes tiresome after the intermission. If anything, Ms. Kohlhaas would have been well advised to go in the other directions and dish up just a slice instead of all of the pie Anna recommends to relieve stress.
Lizzie Loveridge's complaint that the floral chintz fabric that covered the Donmar Warehouse stage tended to obscure the women does not apply to Walt divgler's rose tinted set, but instead puts the focus on the eye teasing costumes.
For the record. While this comic chamber piece may seem like a departure for David Mamet, it is in fact just another example of his versatility. The hats he wears include directing, teaching, children's and adult books and writing screen plays, including his adaptation of another period play, Terrence Rattigan's the Winslow Boy. The use of an all female cast is a new departure for him and as evidenced by the three trios who have now played Anna, Claire and Catherine (RebeccaPidgeon, Felicity Huffman and Mary McCann in Boston; Zoe Wannamaker, Anna Chancellor and Lyndsay Marshall in London) these women allow very different actresses to have as grand a time acting these roles as the playwright had creating them. Even with more drastic casting -- say, Harvey Firestein as Anna and Charles Busch as Claire -- one leaves Boston Marriage hoping Mamet will next return to his more gritty Mametian roots.
Boston Marriage in London
CurtainUp's Mamet backgrounder with links to other reviews
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