David Mamet's woman problem

1812 Productions does Mamet's "Boston Marriage'

3 minute read
Gonglewski (left), O'Donnell: Rdiculous women who deserve each other. (Photo: Mark Garvin.)
Gonglewski (left), O'Donnell: Rdiculous women who deserve each other. (Photo: Mark Garvin.)
The title of David Mamet's 2000 work, Boston Marriage, refers to a domestic alliance between a pair of women. It's the product of a society that gave women little scope to develop their talents in the world of public affairs, so they arranged their own private ones. If sexual intimacy was involved, polite society didn't have to discuss it aloud— the term (possibly coined by Henry James in his 1886 novel, The Bostonians) said it for them.

As the play opens, Anna (Suzanne O'Donnell) is showing off to Claire (Grace Gonglewski) her newly chintz-decorated parlor and her new necklace with a mammoth jewel— gifts from her new lover, a married man.

Claire, who has been away, announces her own news: She's fallen in love with a young woman. And she has a request of Anna: to use her home as the trysting place.

Excessive expectations

The always marvelous Gonglewski plays Claire as a mannish woman of perhaps 40, confidently striding around the room, conveying sarcasm or disbelief toward Anna's excessive expectations for her lover.

Yet as an expectant lover, Claire is also vulnerable, repeatedly pulling back the curtain to see if her intended partner is coming down the street (without her chaperone, she hopes).

Anna is jealous—her own liaison presumably is only for the money he showers on her, not for love. O'Donnell rages with a piercing voice and a jutting jaw and perfectly timed rants as the two characters joust for an edge over each other.

A sitcom too long

The dialogue— so-called MametSpeech— is an intellectual pleasure. It comprises a medley of styles: here, rounded Victorian-era sentences, Shakespearean undertones, wit Ó la Oscar Wilde, gutter slang of our era, all coming at you rapid-fire. There are pointed jokes about marriage (Anna: "Would he require a mistress if he had no wife?") or men (Anna, her hand brushing her crotch: "In like a lion, out like a lamb").

But how much of this can one take at one sitting? Even Ralph and Alice Kramden or George and Louise Jefferson went at each other for only half an hour at a stretch.

Boston Marriage reaches its climax at the end of Act I. Claire's young woman lover comes to the door (out of the audience's sight); Anna answers, then returns so that Claire can talk to her. Claire re-enters the room with a question from her friend: How did Anna get her mother's necklace?

A séance?

It's a great twist of plot. Unfortunately, nothing in Act II comes close to matching it. Both Claire and Anna plan how to reconcile the father and daughter to the idea that they are taking lovers who themselves are probably lovers. Anna decides a séance is the thing and provides silly costumes for them to wear.

"But could such a Byzantine rodomontade restore the girl to me?" Claire asks. "Could it convince the father?" The women will never find out, because they don't carry it out. Just as well, since we're pretty groggy by this point.

Here the MametSpeech reveals its shortcomings. It's entertaining but not engaging. It's performance ("rodomontade," indeed), not feeling.

Mamet, it's said, wrote Boston Marriage after being stung by criticism that he couldn't write strong parts for women. He still hasn't. When Claire and Anna are ultimately reconciled, language isn't the mediator. It's simply the end of Act II. They kiss— two ridiculous women who deserve each other.

Mamet is fortunate indeed to have two skilled actresses interpreting his work here. They, plus a maid, are the full cast and provide half an evening well spent.♦

To read a response, click here.

What, When, Where

Boston Marriage. By David Mamet; Jennifer Childs directed. 1812 Productions, through May 20, 2012 at Plays & Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St. (215) 592-9560 or www.1812productions.org.

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