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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.
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?
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.♦
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