Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
A "Boston Marriage" is an archaic term for two women living together in what may or may not be a sexual relationship. In David Mamet's funny, smartly written and unusually sympathetic play, it describes a long-standing relationship of convenience. Anna is a woman of a certain age whose economic situation is only as secure as her relationship with a married man, and Claire, her bosom friend and companion, is a worldly woman whose own licentious appetites are quite as unfettered as they are unrequited. Claire has invited a young woman into their den, and Anna asks only to be part of the seduction scenario, a kind of stage-manager for the assignation, and perhaps to look in through a peephole during the main event. That seems reasonable enough, until an unexpected connection at the end of the first act derails both the romantic interlude and the economic stability of both women.
The play is filled with Mamet's brilliantly terse and crisply paced dialogue, and his familiar fascination with complex games and language that is both elegant and ornate, more often concealing than revealing an individual's real intentions. In this play the words are far more esoteric and eloquent than his usual guttural expletives. What's equally distinctive here is the absence of that milieu of anger, hurt and danger that characterizes so many of his more male-oriented works. There is a gentility about these women that is sophisticated and civil, and somehow in this sojourn back to the 19th Century, he's abandoned some of the mass casualty mentality so predominant in his wrenching, contemporary plays. It allows for a drawing room comedy of clever refinement, but retains a full awareness of the socio-political realities of a woman's place in that earlier world.
Director Daniel Wilson deftly handles the witty, florid language and intriguing relationships, moving the action through the first act with a sprightly, charming expertise. The second acts sags a bit, losing both momentum and energy as the apparently changed fortunes of the two women cast them into strained and possibly desperate circumstances. Rather than showing these strong, independent women changing strategy with a changing situation, they seem to acquiesce to the external world in a rather un-dramatic way, and that weakens the dramatic conflict and the tension of the story. The resolution earns its final embrace, but leaves us feeling less exhilarated and satisfied than one might have hoped.
The problem is certainly not in the performances of the three actresses in this "Boston Marriage". Kate Myre plays Anna with all of the surety of a woman well grounded in the ways of the world, and with few illusions as to the transient value of her sexual allure, or her financial viability without it. She hordes and fondles erudite, obscure language with the same combination of avarice and dismissal that she shows toward the valuable emerald she receives from her lover, and that later causes her great difficulty. Ms. Myre has neat, clear accent in her performance, and just the right lack of sentimentality that marks her not as a cynic, but as a woman needing few illusions. Her callous indifference to the plight of others comes out most comically in her treatment of the young serving girl, Catherine. In spite of her insistence that she's Scottish (and a shaky accent that doesn't help), Anna insists on calling her Irish, and presuming all of the ignorant, impoverished, potato famine prejudices that carry with that. Heather Persinger does an excellent job with Catherine, making her appropriately subservient, but nonetheless a woman with a life of her own, with desires and amours of her own, and with an opinion on these two women of her own. She has fine comic timing, and just the right control over gestures and expressions to make them underline the action and embellish the relationships.
For Anna, the one real outlet for authenticity, intimacy and genuine commitment is with her beloved friend, Claire. Peggy Gannon gives Claire personal strength of character, and an amused, sustaining affection for Anna. Her amorous quest for a young woman who never arrives in this play is convincing, and introduces the purely carnal in a way that is neither lascivious nor predatory. Her endless entertainment with Anna is endearing and critical to maintaining our own entertainment with this self-contained world. Best of all, both Ms. Gannon and Ms. Myre display such a strong sense of affection, intimacy and autonomy that we fully accept the years of their history, the courage of their chosen path, the intensity of their mutual love and regard, the boundaries they know in each other.
"Boston Marriage" is an admirable production of a quite wonderful piece of playwriting. In producing this elegant and sophisticated comedy, Seattle Public Theatre takes another step toward establishing itself as an important venue for quality theatre. The nearly full-house on the night I attended caught every subtlety, every telling inflection, laughed at both obvious and subtle humor, appreciated the shifting landscapes of plot and relationship. It was a smart audience watching a smart production of a very smart play.