Boston Marriage (April 13-29, 2007)

Actors revel in Mamet’s ‘Boston Marriage’

by ALEC CLAYTON
Originally published in The Tacoma News Tribune

Theater Artists Olympia is known for taking on quirky projects, and David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage” is about as quirky as it gets.

It is a turn-of-the-century comedy of manners updated with gritty and profane language. The protagonists are outrageously plain-speaking lesbian lovers.

The play opens tonight in TAO’s new home away from home, the Kenneth J. Minnaert Fine Arts Center at South Puget Sound Community College.

Unable to fit it into my schedule any other way, I attended a rehearsal a week before opening night and interviewed the director, Michael Christopher, and the cast: Heather Christopher (Anna), Heather Lennox (Claire) and Ingrid Pharris as Catherine the maid.

Mamet is so well-known for writing rapid-fire and terse dialogue that his brand of dialogue has become known as “Mametspeak.” He is also known for writing men’s plays – so much so that critics have accused him of being unable to write for woman. Michael Christopher said he thinks Mamet wrote this one just to prove he could write for women. If that’s the case, he has proved it quite well. The banter between Anna and Claire in this comedy is sparkling and witty.

The term “Boston Marriage” was coined in the 19th century to describe relationships between loving women who typically lived together. There is much debate today as to whether or not such women were indeed lesbian lovers, but Mamet doesn’t make you guess. Anna and Claire are definitely gay.

Anna has been known to dally with men as well, but only because men can give her money and precious gifts. As the play opens, she is showing off her latest bauble, an expensive necklace given to her by her latest male lover, a married man she refers to as her Protector. She shrugs off his marital status by saying “Would he require a mistress if he had no wife?” and justifies her gold-digging with “Expensive jewelry conquers all.”

Even more brazen, Claire announces that she has fallen in love with a beautiful young woman, and she wants Anna to let the young woman come into their shared home for an hour of lovemaking. After much arguing, Anna consents, allowing her lover an afternoon amour. But things get rather sticky when the new lover spots Anna’s necklace and wants to know how her mother’s heirloom necklace ended up around Anna’s neck. (Neither Anna’s “Protector” nor Claire’s new lover actually appear on stage.)

The story is clever, but not terribly important – being primarily a vehicle for the humorous banter between the two lovers that is constantly interrupted by the maid, whose entrances on stage are a series of running jokes: a Scottish accent that is mistaken for Irish, breaking into tears over trivialities, thinking her mistress is ringing for her every time the doorbell rings (and it rings a lot).

Christopher and Lenox have worked together in many plays at TAO and Olympia Little Theatre. They play off each other like improvising jazz musicians. Christopher is a natural comic, with her big, rolling eyes and haughty expressions. In this play, she is in a constant state of panic. Lenox responds to her with disdainful smirks and sarcasm, while looking distressed throughout the play. They are each a joy to watch.

Pharris’ role is written to be a scene stealer, and she is marvelous. “Crying over spilled milk” will forever have a new meaning thanks to Pharris, and the manner in which she turns rowing a boat into a bizarre sexual pantomime is indescribable.

I asked the actors what drew them to their roles.

“I was intrigued to see in what manner a writer such as Mamet, brilliant yet typically quite sexist, would handle a lesbian relationship. His treatment of Anna and Claire appealed to me because of their no-fluff humanity,” Lenox said.

“How could we pass up a play with such juicy parts for women?” Christopher commented. “Beyond all the scheming and artifice, ‘Boston Marriage’ asks: How far would you go to keep your love? Will Anna help Claire seduce another woman? Will Claire agree to be supported by Anna’s male lover?”