Counting the number of times the F-word is spoken in a David Mamet play would make for one heckuva drinking game. You’d be sloshed by intermission. After breaking a record for the number of profanities in one play — Glengarry Glen Ross contains the F-word 93 times — Mamet switched gears from his typical masculine, aggressive, profane, obscene, misogynistic work in favor of a feminine, aggressive, euphemistically obscene work of misandry in Boston Marriage, a part of Piccolo Spoleto’s Stelle Di Domani Series. In classic Mamet style, the characters are verbose, caustic, emotionally manipulative, and verbally abusive.
In what could be interpreted as a dark comedy, Boston Marriage is set in late-19th-century New England and tells the story of Anna (Laine Satterfield) and Claire (Laura Rikard), two women who are engaged in a “Boston marriage,” a long-term, sexual relationship between two cohabiting women, but not exclusively so. Anna has taken up with a wealthy married man, a “protector,” who provides a comfortable lifestyle for her and her “best friend” Claire, whose most recent object of affection is a much younger and innocent woman. Claire has invited her prospective paramour to come over for a visit.
The sexual component of their relationships is discussed in metaphorical imagery and demure references — like “pie” and “auger” (a kind of hand screw) — befitting the Victorian era. The innuendos are no less obscene, however, because they are cloaked in lust, not love. A woman’s virtue is sport for either sex in Mamet’s world — emotional and sexual manipulation is not reserved for the masculine sex.
The shallow and selfish Anna and Claire are not the most likeable characters, and their fine, proper manners mask their moral vapidity. Mamet's characters are often cruel, but Boston Marriage possibly breaks through that cynicism, depending on how you interpret Anna and Claire’s actions. Are they motivated by love or power?
Technically, the Charlottesville, Va.-based Collective Collaborative Players’ production is skillfully executed. The black box Chapel Theatre is furnished with period drawing-room furniture like a marble-topped table and a yellow and blue chintz-covered fainting couch. Curiously, Anna’s desk chair is covered in fur, with one arm covered in the same chintz pattern, and the other with an animal’s head.
The biggest challenge in producing a Mamet play is getting the rhythm of the language down, because so much of his meaning is built within the long-winded, rapid-fire dialogue. Mamet’s massive vocabulary and sophisticated syntax in Boston Marriage requires much more in-depth study than in his contemporary plays. Under Will Rucker’s direction, the meaning of Mamet’s wordy rants is lost in a cloudy sphere of antiquated language. Although their characterizations are studied, the actresses rush through the lines in deliberate histrionics far too often. The melodramatic style is intended to be the source of humor, but unfortunately, the humor is lost in the hypertension of Satterfield’s surly performance.
Boston Marriage could potentially achieve its creator’s purpose, but without more amusing characters, or at least a naughty chuckle or two, it is an exhibit of combative shrews in taffeta.