Spoiler alert – “Boston Marriage” refers to a permanent living relationship between two women. And no, that’s not necessarily what you might be thinking—often unmarried women, especially in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, chose to live together for financial and emotional reasons.
There, I think I’ve made it sound fussier than it is–think roommate maybe with, maybe without the sex. So if you’re off to see David Mamet’s Boston Marriage, I hope I haven’t spoiled it for you.
Boston Marriage examines the lives of three women: Anna (Amanda Muggleton), an overly dramatic “old” woman who has found a protector willing to support her financially. His generosity enables Anna to also offer support to Claire (Rachel Gordon) her younger friend and companion of many years. But Claire has a newer and younger love – much hand wringing and arm waving ensues. Witnessing and, to some extent, arbitrating between the two is Catherine (kudos to Helen Cassidy who gets the best lines), the Scottish maid of all work. While the play seems to be about relationships –subtextually, it examines issues of class, identity and gender.
The dialogue is unrelenting. And sometimes coarse. It gallops through biblical quotes, geopolitical issues, philosophy and the benefits of pie. While Mamet has claimed that actors need “a strong voice and superb diction” (True and False 1997)–sometimes his excessive verbiage traps the actors trying to maintain Bostonian accents. Keep a sharp ear open for the amusing zingers (a la Wilde) that often get lost: there was a great quote about journalism that slipped through the fissures of my mind. Instead, I remember
“I pray you indulge me for a space, for I am going to set out on a speech which may have some duration, but whose theme may be gleaned from its opening phrase: how dare you”
for a reason beyond my ken. Praise to the actors for their ability to sustain the audience’s attention through the occasional meandering monologue. Mamet’s wit shines when he intersperses swear words into the Victorian-esque dialogue.
Praise to the costuming and set designer (Stephen Curtis). The costumes are elegant and the room lush. The opening lighting (David Walters) is wonderfully dramatic and a precursor to the timbre of the play. Andrea Moor deftly handles the direction, though the play seems, to those with realistic sensibilities, overwrought at times. It is difficult not to question Mamet’s style –is he hinting that women, even intelligent ones, are prone to histrionics and logorrhoea?
Boston Marriage runs until February 15th at Playhouse, QPAC.
Words by Toni Johnson-Woods | Images by Rob Maccoll