A not so happy marriage

Boston Marriage (Queensland Theatre Company)

QPAC, The Playhouse

January 24 – February 15

Ad Libitum, the words from atop the “Boston Marriage” setting proclaim. It is an obscure term that means towards pleasure. We learn this through quick glance at the program’s glossary of terms now faded into obscurity. And certainly this is a play that is set firmly in its 1906 context, not just linguistically but also in its ornate and ornamental, but compact, set of Corinthian columns and luscious curtains.

boston marriage set

This is the well-appointed drawing room of Anna (Amanda Muggleton), where the whole play is set. Anna is an extravagant woman of fashion and means, or so it seems. But appearances can be deceptive and we soon learn through her confidence to close friend Claire (Rachel Gordon) that she is the beneficiary of a wealthy male ‘protector’ who showers her with jewellery in exchange for affection. It is clear, early on, that Anna loves drama. And when the younger Claire delivers the news that she has fallen in love and has invited her new friend to visit so she can initiate a seduction, Anna is far from pleased. The reason for her (over)reaction becomes clear on consideration of the play’s title; Boston Marriage is a late 19th century euphemism for a relationship between two females that may involve both physical and emotional intimacy, often as part of a lesbian commitment.

The work was written by David Mamet, allegedly in response to the accusation that he couldn’t write female characters. And, accordingly, words are its focus, as Mamet examines the façade lurking behind language. As the cynical pair trade barbs, using language to avoid emotion, the dialogue descends from smart and sharp, to bawdy and vulgar. But even in the veneer of refinement and good-natured banter, women calling each other sluts and whores is hardly something to be celebrated, and perhaps serves to answer the misogynist assertions that have been directed Mamet’s way. It also become tiresome, as essentially all the duo do is chase each other around a chaise-lounge, in lieu of a plot, which only serves to make the introduction of a third character so welcome.

boston marriage

The reprieve comes in the form of Anna’s maid, whose name and nationality Anna consistently mistakes (for that is the kind of self-centered and ego-centric woman Anna is). As the maid, Catherine, struggling to keep up with her household duties and her mistress’ demands, Helen Cassidy is a solid presence, delivering double-entendres with a straight face. Indeed, Cassidy turns what should be a relatively minor role into an extremely funny one; she can even steal a scene by walking across the stage. Her facial expressions are perfect and her Scottish accent comforting in its authenticity.

Clearly, Mamet is attempting to mimic the style of Oscar Wilde. But Wilde, this is not. The language is obscure and the dialogue verbose, filled as it is with lengthy proclamations, innuendos and sexual allusions at every turn. Sure the verbal humour is tempered with some farcical elements as expose of the artifice of the period, but even so, “Boston Marriage” lacks the punch of other witty works (such as Noel Coward-type tales). By overplaying the sexual innuendos in the text, and skirting the moral dilemmas that the play poses, it loses much of the witty humour and leaves the audience with just a series of antiquated terms, anachronisms and rambling monologues.

Photos c/o – https://www.facebook.com/qldtheatreco/photos

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