Pulitzer Prize-winner David Mamet is not known for his female characters. In most of his plays, loud, foul-mouthed men who seem to have been born with an uncouth amount of testosterone throw out F-bombs with abandon and practice verbal castration when necessary. In fact, his female characters are generally so rare — and when they do appear, so secondary — that some critics have gone so far as to suggest that Mamet can't write for women. So, in typical genius fashion, he went and wrote A Boston Marriage, a play starring three women and three women only. But that's not the only curve ball he threw. Unlike his previous works, A Boston Marriage is a period piece, set in Victorian New England. The result has been called Oscar Wilde meets David Mamet.
That's not quite as unlikely a combination as one might think. Wilde and Mamet share a love of quick-witted, sharp-tongued characters, though Wilde's language is restrained by good English manners. In A Boston Marriage, which focuses on the relationship between two co-habitating women, Anna and Claire, the dialogue can move from lines like "Bother your reticule!" to "You whore!" This presents an interesting challenge for both the audience, who must work to keep up with the verbal action, and for the actors. As College of Charleston alum, actress, and theater professor Laura Rikard says, "You have to know how to perform an Oscar Wilde play, but not be afraid to break out of it ... There are times that call for you to forget the period style and just be a desperate human being."
Desperation seems as though it would have no place in a Boston marriage, which in the Victorian era referred to two women who lived together in a long-term relationship, free of the support of a man. The term conjures up a domestic little scene of elderly spinsters accompanied by a cat or two, or a pair of independent-minded young women with thick ankles who have determined not to marry. Is that sexist? Of course. It was just as likely that two women could fall in love and enter into a life-long, romantic relationship, with all the vicissitudes of any marriage. This is the case for Anna and Claire, who find their comfortable life upset when Claire falls in love with a younger woman who turns out to be the daughter of the wealthy man whom Anna is "entertaining" in return for his "protection." In true Mamet style, neither lady is particularly lovable, or even likeable — they fling insults at each other as readily as they do at their long-suffering Scottish maid, Catherine.
The play is being performed by the Charlottesville, Va.-based Collective Collaborative Players, a small theater company founded by Rikard, Beth Mevers, and Will Rucker. The company was originally formed to support the production of Rikard's one-woman show A Shaker's Path, which was performed at the Piccolo Stelle di Domani series in 2010. As the company developed, "We formed the mission to do works that are by women, or about women, and also offer opportunities to actors who want to work professionally," Rikard explains. "That part came out of my teaching work — I was working with so many great students who just didn't know how to take that first step toward a professional theater career." Rikard first encountered the play while she herself was a student finishing her MFA at the University of Virginia. "We had a session on Mamet, and I have to admit I wasn't really excited about it. Structurally, he's a brilliant playwright, but I've never been that drawn to his female characters. I was assigned A Boston Marriage ... and when I got it on its feet and started working on it, I thought, 'This is really interesting!' It's a workout for the mind and for the tongue."
Though the difference between this and Mamet's other plays is what generally catches people's attention, it's the similarities that give Anna and Claire, for all their backbiting, sniping, and general wickedness, lasting weight. "Mamet has this visceral style," Rikard says. "You have to play it from your gut, and though these women are incredibly heady, very intelligent, very articulate ... like all Mamet characters, they're coming from this deep, passionate place of truth."