The Queensland Theatre Company’s production of ‘Boston Marriage’ opened their 2015 season at The Playhouse this week. David Mamet’s comedy principally explores the relationship between two women on the fringe of Boston’s elite society at the turn of the twentieth century.
The term ‘Boston Marriage’ was coined at the time of the play’s setting, and generally referred to unmarried women living together independently of a man, in either a platonic or romantic relationship; such alliances were usually underpinned by financial independence. In the case of Mamet’s play, however, neither protagonist has independent means, and this situation provides the backdrop upon which the drama unfolds.
Anna, played here by Amanda Muggleton, well known in the theatre, and for her role in the television drama ‘Prisoner’, is the mistress of a wealthy man, who is also her benefactor – he has recently made her a present of a valuable emerald necklace. The play opens with the arrival of Claire, played by Rachel Gordon, known for her television roles in ‘All Saints’, ‘Blue Heelers’, ‘Home and Away’, ‘Neighbours’ and ‘The Moodys’, at Anna’s home after an unspecified absence. It is immediately clear that the women were once intimate, and there is an awkwardness to their reunion. Mamet’s signature acerbic, rapid-paced, dialogue ushers in hostilities and the verbal fencing begins.
During their separation, Claire has fallen in love with a younger woman, and is attempting to enlist Anna’s assistance in the seduction of her new paramour. Anna, who plainly still loves Claire, is incredulous and angry, and makes her feelings clear. Thrown into the mix is Anna’s hapless Scottish maid, Catherine, played by Helen Cassidy, who is the unfortunate foil for much misdirected ire whenever she steps into the room; this is intended to be comic, and frequently is, but occasionally the relentless invective spills over into spiteful persecution.
The arrival of Claire’s would-be lover precipitates a crisis when she recognises the emerald necklace as belonging to her mother. The second half sees our protagonists continuing their verbal jousting, as they plot their way out of the ensuing scandal and salvage their relationship, which, in true Mamet style, involves psychological manipulation and deception.
Stephen Curtis’ sumptuous and beautiful set is a stark contrast to the scathing words exchanged, and is an effective counterpoint to the emotional unravelling that occurs on-stage. Mamet’s dialogue here is sarcastic and vicious to the point of brutality—the women appear well-educated but shallow, self-centred and unkind, and are ultimately unlikeable—one cannot help but wonder what he really thinks of women. Mamet has on occasion been accused of misogyny, and this play, allegedly written in response to criticism that he could only write about men, does little to refute that charge.
Click: Opening Night Photos
Although this is not Mamet’s best play, the strong female leads and the incisive wit offer compelling reasons to see this performance. The acting is of a high standard, the set and costumes are exceptional, and Andrea Moor’s direction brings this challenging drama vividly to life.
Boston Marriage plays at QPAC until 15 February, then tours
20 & Sat 21 Feb - The Arts Centre, Gold Coast
25 Feb - Ipswich Civic Theatre
28 Feb - Empire Theatre, Toowoomba
4 March - Gladstone Entertainment Convention Centre
7 March - Mackay Entertainment & Convention Centre
12 March - Cairns Civic Theatre
14 March - Townsville Civic Theatre
18 March - Mount Isa Civic Theatre
24 & 25 March - Nambour Civic Theatre