On Centre Stage
Winning Marriage Lines Slightly Divorced.
By Douglas Kennedy.
Boston Marriage: Queensland Theatre Company. Amanda Muggleton, Rachel Gordon, Helen Cassidy. Directed by Andrea Moor. Playhouse Theatre until February 15.
David Mamet’s Boston Marriage sounds and, more importantly, feels like the sort of play Oscar Wilde might have liked to have written if the times had been on his side.
This always clever, but sometimes vulgar, play of questionable manners explores the shadowy world of Edwardian desire through the eyes of elegant same-sex lust.
However, this time around the relationship focuses on two women whose lifestyle choice is euphemistically lifted from Henry James’ 1885 novel, The Bostonians.
Wilde, of course, could never bring his own homosexual longings to the stage– nowadays jollified as gay – but he could trip around the Victorian taboo with tales of secrets and lies, clothed in the most sparkling fits of sparkling witty dialogue.
Likewise, Mamet, whose play has been around since 1999, gives us a surfeit of shining rhetoric, worthy of a truly theatrical night, delivered by a duo of incomparable dames and a classic working class comic cut.
The ‘marriage’ in this Queensland Theatre Company production, played as much for laughs as for de profundis, showcases three delightful actors as the bonded Anna (Amanda Muggleton) and Claire (Rachel Gordon) and their bawdy put upon maid Catherine (Helen Cassidy).
The threesome live in a house that carries the motto Ad Libitum (Towards Pleasure) and, in keeping with the mores of the turn of the 19th century world in which they live, keep their intoxicating appetites more or less under wraps.
There’s innuendo and suggestions aplenty – and occasionally some coarse remark or ill-convinced thrust unintentionally mugged – but for the most part it’s all in the mind rather than the muff.
The story, which is a more pedestrian than the verbose romp, focuses on Claire’s quest to bring home a young innocent for playful fun (Anna is told she can watch but not touch), but the best laid plans go awry when there’s a knock at the door (noises off).
Anna, who has playing a variation of footsy of her own with a male admirer for purely material gain, comes back and announces that the dainty catch has swam off in a huff after catching a glimpse of her necklace.
It appears that Anna’s devoted admirer has treated her to his wife’s jewellery and the girl just happens to be their daughter. So begins a series of convoluting schemes designed to put their world to rights.
In the second act the women selfishly concoct a series of half-baked Machiavellian scenarios to quench their material and carnal thirst.
The play is alive with witty and compelling retorts as the two ‘married’ women cut and thrust through a lush undergrowth of period dialogue. They only take time and draw breath enough to rubbish poor Catherine, who handles it all with comic aplomb
The three players – sadly we don’t get to meet other characters in the story – give delightful and entertaining performances.
The play, which runs for two hours with a 20-minute break, is an engaging alterative to Mamet’s often male dominated works (think Glengarry Glen Ross), although the story is somewhat strained in the second half.
Still, overall a good night at the theatre and a good start to QTC’s 2015 season.
Note: A muff is a fur or warm garment for keeping the hands warm and anyone who thought any different should certainly catch this play.