Left - (l-r) Margaret Mills, Sara Gleeson (rear) and Pamela Rabe. Cover - Pamela Rabe. Photos - Jeff Busby.
Refinement. Archness. Manners. Vituperative repartee. Chintz. Drawing room. Maid. Aging lesbian lovers. Hot new fancy. Threat of loss of relationship, loss of income. Scathing wit. These ingredients, delicately shaken, make for the bitter and very punchy cocktail that is Boston Marriage.
Boston Marriage is a delight. A viciously funny comedy of manners with the earthy vulgarity typical of Mamet’s writing. The combination of crudeness and elevated wit is intoxicating. The characters are awful and hilarious, at moments self-aware, ludicrous yet believable. Boston Marriage is a bit Noel Coward, a bit Christopher Durang, a lot Wilde, and something else again. For instance, Anna and Claire are talking about men and what can be done with them; just the one thing: ‘In like a lion, out like a lamb.’ The play opens with Anna perfecting a pose in order to receive Claire who has been absent for a while. She makes us wait while she composes herself so you get the full sense of her personality before she even says a word. She seems in control (when not histrionic) but belies herself with constant comfort eating of sweets, dropping the wrappings for the maid to clear away. The class distinctions are played up in Anna and Claire’s treatment of poor Catherine. At one point Anna describes her as ‘ the slavey.’
The stakes are high for Anna and Claire, society women who lack independent means. Anna has become mistress to a wealthy man in order to secure their future but meanwhile Claire has fallen for a younger woman. Preposterously, Claire wants Anna to entertain the girl’s mother at her home while she seduces her … so desperate is Anna to keep Claire that she agrees. But there are complications, manipulations then the whole thing goes awry. The two use language as both rapiers and bouquets, gliding between artifice and slamming insult. The dialogue has been described as verbal ping pong but at times it more resembles a game of squash. The may claim to be uneducated but they are thrillingly eloquent.
The three actresses are strong and unfaltering but Sara Gleeson very nearly steals the show as the much put-upon maid. Some of the funniest lines come when Anna bullies Catherine, constantly forgetting – or not caring to remember – her name and the fact that she is Scots, not Irish. Pamela Rabe as Anna, Margaret Mills as Claire, and Gleeson have their comic timing finely tuned to great effect. Their performances are as tight as their corsetry.
The costumes are ravishing and the set works well to create a sense of quiet opulence, making a statement without overwhelming the action. The lighting is nicely incorporated into the set design, enabling the walls to change colour, a beautiful touch. There are just enough props to set the scene without crowding and the triangular shape of the stage is well used to underscore the triangulations of the plot and of the three bodies on stage. The characters enter and exit with much aplomb.
The second half of the play in some ways nearly fails to match the first and I wonder whether an interval actually serves the production well. But the pace is superb and there is a terrific twist at the end which rounds it all off perfectly. A very nice night’s entertainment indeed.
Melbourne Theatre Company presents
by David Mamet
Director Aidan Fennessy
Venue: the Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio
Dates: 4 June - 24 July 2010
Tickets: $42.55 - $83.15 (Under 30s $30)
Bookings: MTC Box Office (03) 8688 0800 | mtc.com.au | the Arts Centre 1300 182 183 | theartscentre.com.au