Dance in a trance

Friday, July 23, 2010



“Boston Marriage” is a euphemism for an intimate but discreet relationship between two women, coined well before the words gay and lesbian were current. In Aidan Fennessy’s production for the MTC, David Mamet’s play is a writer’s delight: there are echoes of so many precedents – Genet, Beckett, Oscar Wilde – but the concoction is, in the end, Mamet’s alone. Perhaps that now that Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter is dead, Mamet, also Jewish, can assume his crown. I shall recommend him even if he’s not British.
It takes consummate artistry to have 90 minutes pure of theatre in which nothing actually happens and three people just talk. But what talk! The dialogue between the two genteel society ladies Anna (Pamela Rabe) and Claire (Margaret Mills) crackles and sparkles like a Catherine wheel. It reminds you of the age of conversation before electronic gadgets took over. Victims of an age when clever but unschooled women were reduced to whiling away the time whilst servants like Catherine (Sara Gleeson) slavishly attended to all the household chores, they naturally got up to mischief. (See Liaisons Dangereuses, for instance.) The brilliance is in having the third person who is not, as you might expect, the lover to whom Claire is going to give herself, causing her to break her tryst with the older Anna, but the humble servant girl who, by constantly interrupting the flow of dialogue, provides a comic foil as well as adding the dimension of class. Our gratification is forever being delayed. Her thanks? To have their sadistic, frustrated impulses heaped upon her, all the energy and drive which would normally be directed towards work or family. But they, poor rich things, are blissfully, delightfully free – to do nothing at all but talk. Until, that is, their protector snatches the carpet from under their feet and forces them to depend on themselves.
Mamet is known for writing about men: Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed- the- Plow, American Buffalo. In the provocative “Oleanna”, he dealt with sexual harassment in the university. Here by contrast, we are locked into a claustrophobic boudoir throbbing red in Christina Smith’s delicious design, with no apparent window on the outside world. Only the maid comes and goes with messages about a man fixing the stove and bringing new parts – all delivered with a knowing undercurrent of sexual nuance. For this play is a High Camp melodrama: it’s really about theatre, acting, plot, costume and, of course, language. Everything is artifice, uttered with a sense of irony. There are the necessary props, too – a tell-tale necklace which causes the fantasy protector to abandon his mistress, some scarves, candles, and select items of luxurious furniture. These are just excuses. Underneath all the role play, the needs and desires of these women – all three – are as strong and believable as any. That is what makes the play so much more than a versatile exercise in satire.
Boston Marriage continues at the Fairfax Theatre until July 24.

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