note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
David Mamet’s 1999 hit Victorian Era farce, “Boston Marriage,” currently appearing with the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, is a skillfully crafted piece of work.
Popular director David Zoffoli, who left his artistic mark at North Shore Music Theatre, Merrimack Repertory Theater, and others, underlines every line and nuance of Mamet’s scathing humor, as accomplished Equity actresses Debra Wise, Jennie Israel and Melissa Baroni punctuate every double entendre and skewed social more’ with deliberately stilted finesse.
For those unfamiliar with the archaic term, Boston Marriage, in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was a living arrangement between two females that enabled them to live independently, without male support, financial or otherwise. It may or may not have a sexual connotation, but, it’s ironically tied today to the fact that gay marriages received a nod in November 2003 in Massachusetts. Among the first ceremonies to occur were in Boston a few months later.
In Mamet’s farce, the term applies to both situations, sexual and financial. His heroines, Anna and Claire, are lesbians, but Anna is kept, or “protected,” by a wealthy man, who secures her lifestyle among the leisurely. She revels in the fact that her married benefactor travels frequently, and even though he’s married, has set her up for life in a sumptuous home, with an open-ended bank account. Furthermore, he gave her an emerald necklace, a five-generation family heirloom.
In turn, Anna can support her younger, attractive paramour, Claire, without worries.
When Claire arrives with a wickedly shameful announcement that she loves another - a charming, innocent 10-year-old, whom she intends to exploit - the play takes a distasteful turn. Regardless, Anna schemes how she can keep Claire with her, regardless of this shocking wrinkle.
Thrust in the middle is Anna’s high-strung Scottish maid, Catherine, whom Anna consistently refers to as Bridie and other typically Irish names, which Catherine finds insulting. Melissa Baroni as vexed Catherine provides consistent comic relief as she sobs, wails, stomps and stammers to get Anna’s attention, mostly on domestic issues, and, later, about her own sticky situation.
New Rep’s production is accented with old-time musical interludes between scenes, and Janie E. Howland’s lush set and Rafael Jaen’s costumes provide elegant touches.
“Boston Marriage” isn’t my cup of tea, but seeing Wise, Israel and Baroni saunter through this entangled web of Victorian lifestyle, with its deliberately stilted language, is worth the price of admission.
BOX INFO: Two-act farce, written by David Mamet, directed by David Zoffoli, starring Jennie Israel and Debra Wise, with Melissa Baroni, presented by New Repertory Theatre at the at Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown, through October 3. Performances are Sundays, 2 p.m. only; Wednesday, Sept. 22, Thursday, Sept. 30, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 2, at 3,8 p.m. Tickets are $28-$59, senior discount, $7 off; student rush, $14. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.