Evolution’s Boston Marriage Looks at a Hidden Slice of American History
“Light” and “frivolous” probably aren’t in the first hundred words that come to mind when talking about David Mamet. Boston Marriage is something of a departure for the playwright. Evolution Theatre Company presents a production directed by Mark Phillips Schwamberger.
The term “Boston marriage” refers to a romantic cohabitation relationship between two women. Henry James popularized the term in The Bostonians. Boston Marriage, a drawing room comedy set in New England around the turn of the 19th century, focuses on one such relationship. Claire (Kathy Sturm) returns home to move in with Anna (Vicky Welsh Bragg). Both Claire and Anna try to juggle other relationships: Anna as a wealthy man’s mistress and Claire with a younger woman as, being a comedy, both fall apart. Neither of these other partners appears on stage: the only other character we see is Anna’s maid, the mistreated and abused Catherine (Kathy Hyland).
Mamet’s dialogue pyrotechnics are intermittently satisfying here, with a nice rhythm in the volleys between the women. However, the playwright doesn’t drill down into what makes this type of relationship work or what makes the comedy of manners genre work. Boston Marriage feels like a stone skimming across the surface of his preoccupations including the deep-seated confidence that people will always make the most destructive, self-serving choice.
The performances seem to exist in three different interpretations of the material. Vicky Welsh Bragg has the easiest time with the dialogue. She gracefully slips between convoluted sentence structures meant to recall Oscar Wilde and coarser turns like “What a shithole.” She also attacks Anna with a bone-deep understanding of how scary and sad it is to live constantly paranoid that someone’s getting something you’re not, sure everyone is out to get you at all times. Welsh Bragg creates a more complex, nuanced, empathetic character than exists on the page without ever veering into cheap sympathy the character doesn’t deserve.
Schwamberger’s direction makes the most of Ben Girvin’s set. He keeps the action moving and his physical take on the hermetic world shared by Claire and Anna amplifies the sense of their relationship as a cage, a pressure cooker, and a pinball machine. But the two hour (with intermission) run time feels exhausting.
Boston Marriage runs through July 29 with performances at 8:00 pm Thursday through Saturday. For tickets and more info, visit http://www.evolutiontheatre.org/