To perform roles created by American playwright David Mamet, an actor must have an ability to take convoluted, complex and sometimes incomplete thoughts comprised of both short and lengthy sentences or phrases and fire them from one's mouth like bullets from an AK-47. So precise and recognizable is his M.O. with dialogue that it has come to be known as "Mamet speak."
Mamet's way with words is on display in Something Something Theatre Company's production of his play Boston Marriage. Overall it's a good production, I discovered after I was able to track it down. Oh yes, you bet there's a story there, and I will share it with you in a few paragraphs.
Boston Marriage is not one of Mamet's better-known plays. Although he is a prolific writer in various genres, he is probably best known for his 1994 Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Glengarry Glen Ross, which he adapted for film in 1992. He also wrote the screenplays for 1981's The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Untouchables, and The Verdict, among others.
In Boston Marriage Mamet has managed to turn the straight man's fantasy of two women "doing it" into a very funny play. And this production delivers the comedy with gusto.
For those unfamiliar with the term, Boston marriage refers to an arrangement in which two women lived together and enjoyed an intimate emotional and perhaps even sexual relationship. It was a term used in the last years of the 19th century and into the 20th century, possibly as a result of Henry James' book, The Bostonians, which dealt with such a relationship. Since women were not allowed to work in mainstream jobs, often these relationships had to be subsidized by inherited wealth, or being employed in "women's work," such as teaching. Sometimes women became mistresses to married men who would give them gifts and provide financial support.
In Mamet's play, Anna (T Loving) is such a women, mistress to a very generous man, her "protector," she calls him. Her "roommate," Claire (Carley Elizabeth Preston), having been away for a while, returns with the news that she has found true love, which upsets Anna—or so it seems. It's hard to tell exactly what's up with Anna. She is able to turn an ordinary conversation into an episode akin to Greek tragedy. She is a one-person melodrama costumed in an outrageously over-the-top gown that reeks of comic tastelessness. And she can be mean.
Anna says Claire can invite her paramour to their home for some dilly-dallying, but only if she can watch. (More male fantasy?) Needing the use of their home, what can Claire do but relent, although she insists that Anna not be in the room but peer from a hole in the wall or some such thing. The paramour arrives and—well, I wouldn't want to spoil it for you. Let's just say that not all the stars have aligned positively for this meeting. In the meantime, confusion reigns between the two ladies and their maid, creating a rapid-fire farce of words.
This is a different Mamet than we usually expect. His theater world is full of men and their foul ways and even fouler mouths. Here, Mamet gives us a period piece with women. But because of his excellent skill with language, and by setting his story in Victorian times, these women, particularly Anna, deliver punishingly harsh language, albeit with a high-class feel. But it's still rapid-fire wordplay, and the combination of nasty plus class makes it really funny.
Loving has the most difficult job of dealing with Mamet's language. Anna loves to talk and she cares not for an economy of words. Loving handles this load well. And she handles the histrionics well, although she is so blatantly manipulative and unforgiving that it's hard to imagine what Claire ever saw in her. Her bad-tempered energy needs to be calmed from time to time, and that would allow us to be able to imagine some attractive charm. Preston can match Anna's vitriol, but with much fewer words. She grows more and more impatient with Anna, and they both grow impatient with Catherine (Jill Baker), the maid, who is in way over her head. Attempts and failures to communicate between this threesome is richly comic.
Avis Judd directs, and she also designed the intentionally tasteless costumes. She does both quite capably. The other design elements are adequate.
Now, for the story I mentioned above. Consider this feature a twofer: A review of a play as well as a review of theater practices.
Something Something is a relatively new kid on the theater block. They don't have a single venue to house their productions regularly. For this show they have rented the Community Playhouse theater on Oracle, between Grant and Speedway.
I have been to this venue several times, and I was aware that the actual entrance to the theater adjoined a parking lot at the rear of the building. I have always entered the parking lot from a gate on north side. When arrived opening night, that gate was closed. Locked. No entry. Hmm. I could see cars in the lot. How did they get there? I was flummoxed. Well, the thing to do, of course, was to call the theater's phone number listed on their website, which I looked up on my trusty smart phone. I called—and there was no answer. Strange. I texted. I emailed. I rattled the heavy locked gate as ferociously as I could. Nothing.
I left when it became clear that I was not going to be able to be able to gain entrance.
Turns out, there is another gate off a side street through which cars and patrons had entered the parking lot. I felt like an outsider of a secret club, not knowing the secret handshake. Or password. Mostly I was just pissed.
I returned to the theater Sunday because I had an assignment to review this play. I entered through the unlocked north gate, the same one that had been locked the other night. Smooth sailing. Easy-peasey. No fuss, no muss.
The thing that really got me was that there was no way to reach the theater when there was a problem. I may have been a doofus for not knowing the lay of the land, but I tried to rid myself of my doofus-ness by calling the theater. I was shocked when later I learned that their phone was turned off a couple of hours before the show. Huh? Surely I'm not the only doofus who might be trying to figure out how to gain entrance, or who might call to ask if there were still seats available, or to see if the show was suitable for kids—whatever.
Yeah, I'm picking on this theater because I was inconvenienced by them. But there is a larger issue.
Theater groups need to make sure there is an organizational platform in place so they can interact with their would-be audience. For small theaters, this aspect of their institution gets slighted as most energy goes into mounting plays. But without the means, the machine, to make it easy for theatergoers to learn about and attend those shows, even a group producing good plays will dissolve, sooner than later.
Rant over. Now go see this play.