Boston Marriage is David Mamet’s (Glengarry Glen Ross and other testosterone-driven plays) answer to the timeworn question: what do women want? The Dominion Stage production answers this question with delightful and rapid-fire performances by Elizabeth Keith, Heather Plank, and Nancy Somers.
As per the playbill, the term “Boston marriage” was at the turn of the last century “historically the cohabitation of two wealthy women, independent of financial support from a man…. Some of these relations were romantic in nature and might be now considered a lesbian relationship, some were not.”
A romantic liaison between Claire, as played with witty sharpness by Heather Plank, and a younger woman is underfoot. She has come to her old friend, Anna, as played by Elizabeth Keith with over-the-top Boston Brahminism wielding her intellect and unquenched passion for Claire like a saber.
Mamet not only explores what women want (other women, friendship, love, and financial security are some of the answers) but does so in a Victorian timeframe and with two very smart social climbers. Alden Michels, who serves behind the scenes as the dialect coach, does a masterful job aiding the actors in their quick-paced repartee that combines Mamet’s pacing with Victorian high and low diction.
For comic relief, Nancy Somers as Catherine, the Scottish housekeeper, making her debut with the Dominion Stage, offers a treasure of flubbing, blubbering, and incandescent moments. Her students at Wood Middle School in Rockville, Maryland, where she is an English/theater teacher and the drama director, must have a lot of fun in her care.
However, Somers’ comic relief along with the tension between Claire and Anna can only carry this play so far. While Act I culminates on a dramatic note, the beginning of the second act drags even as the two actors valiantly keep up the Wildean back-and-forth debating what to do about the assignation with the young woman and their financial security, which is now at stake. It feels as if the playwright ran out of ideas about what women want.
Many of the lines, however, will resonate. Clearly, Mamet is channeling Oscar Wilde. One example: “What is more foolish than the unrequited love of the old?” asks Claire of Anna as the play nears its fateful and charming end with the two women alone on stage, and perhaps in life for evermore.
The Dominion Stage, however, did not run out of ideas for the set of Boston Marriage. The black box Theatre on the Run setting was marvelously transformed into an intimate Victorian-era sitting room by the chintz, doilies, porcelain tea kettles and cups, Grecian urn, and neo-Classical painting all assigned by Jeff Davis, properties designer, and Charles Dragonette, set designer. The hair and make-up were Victorian perfections and the work of Rebecca J. Harris.
This feat of directing Mamet’s play solely featuring women goes to Matthew Randall. He achieves the polished, rapid-fire performances required of any Mamet play. If you are looking for a delightful evening, with top-notch, witty performances, one would be wise to go to the Dominion Stage’s production of Boston Marriage.
Running Time: 90 minutes plus one 15-minute intermission.
Boston Marriage plays through February 11, 2023, presented by Dominion Stage performing at Theatre on the Run, 3700 S. Four Mile Run, Arlington, VA. Tickets ($25) can be purchased online. (Use code BostonBogo for buy-one/get-one ticket on Thursdays February 2 and 9.)
COVID Safety: Masks are required while in the performance venue.
Boston Marriage by David Mamet
Director – Matthew Randall
Producer – Rachel Alberts
Executive Producer – Jason Damaso
Stage Manager – Mario Font
Lighting Design – Ken and Patty Crowley
Sound Design – Jon Roberts
Set Dresser – Charles Dragonette, assisted by David Hyman and Alan Wray
Properties Designer – Jeff Davis
Hair and Makeup Design – Rebecca Harris
Dialect Coach – Alden Michels
Elizabeth Keith as Anna
Heather Plank as Claire
Nancy Somers as Catherine