Curtain Calls

Review: 'Boston Marriage'
Everything and everyone has a price in Mamet comedy at The Network

Theatergoers familiar with the work of playwright David Mamet might be somewhat wary as they sit and wait for "Boston Marriage" to begin at Ann Arbor's Performance Network Theatre. After all, Mamet's most famous stage plays feature rough, tough-talking, macho men – and a few have themes some consider misogynistic.
So it's understandable that a play about lesbianism in the late 19th century written by a guy with Mamet's history might be greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism.
But once "Boston Marriage" gets underway, it becomes obvious that Mamet is equally adept at crafting stories with female characters as he is with males. Sure, the language and style he uses are different – which is an understatement, to be sure – yet its theme is still universal: Relationships are complicated – no matter on which side of the sexual street the lovers walk!
In Mamet's drawing room comedy, two middle-aged women, Anna and Claire, are involved in what polite New Englanders then called a "Boston marriage" – a long-term relationship between two unmarried women. Unlike some such arrangements, theirs is a sexual union – one that's about to hit a rough patch that would make Oscar Wilde and Noel Coward proud!
Claire, it seems, has not been around much lately, and when she returns home, she learns that Anna, in order to "keep" Claire in the manner to which they have become accustomed, has taken up with a "protector" – a man who pays her a generous, monthly stipend to be his paramour. As a sign of his affection, the clueless suitor gave Anna an emerald necklace which she now proudly flaunts in front of Claire.
But Anna is not the only one with big news: Claire is madly in love – with a young virgin named Susan. And she's hoping that Anna will act as "her beard" when the youngster arrives later that day for her deflowering.
Neither woman is particularly thrilled with these revelations, but the situation gets even stickier when the never-seen Susan arrives – and recognizes the necklace as one that belongs to her mother!
With that revelation, Anna loses her security and Claire the chance to seduce a lovely innocent. Whatever shall they do?
Why, they'll bitch, they'll snipe and they'll eloquently toss about bon mots, but in the end, love -like expensive jewelry – WILL conquer all.
What draws many theatergoers to Mamet's work are his colorful, earthy use of the English language and his examination of decaying morals in modern-day life. Both are still here – despite the sex change of the characters; the words and actions have simply been washed, pressed and cloaked in fine, Victorian-era frills.
The deliciously witty dialogue, however, can also be the play's downfall. As a "chatty" show with little action, "Boston Marriage" requires a director who understands the nuances of Mamet's script and paces it thusly.
In that regard, Gillian Eaton couldn't have done better! Eaton's actors swirl and twirl as they enter and exit; rarely do they stay in the same place for more than a few moments at a time. The result, then, is a production that is both visually and verbally stimulating.
And Eaton's three actresses? Well, they, too, are truly delightful!
Carla Milarch excels as the totally self-absorbed Anna who efficaciously strikes whatever pose best fits the emotion of the moment. It's an over-the-top role of a woman spurned – twice – but a performance well restrained by this accomplished performer!
Also striking is Roxanne Wellington whose Claire is equally haughty, but considerably more sublimated.
But it's Laurel Hufano who steals pretty much every scene she's in as Anna's put-upon Scottish maid, Catherine.
If you like chintz, you'll love Monika Essen's set. All other technical aspects of the show are equally fine.
"Boston Marriage" Presented Thursday through Sunday at Performance Network Theatre, 120 E. Huron, Ann Arbor, through Feb. 20. Tickets: $20 – $34.50. 734-663-0681.
The Bottom Line: It's an absurd plot, to be sure, but delightfully told and superbly acted!

Tidbits: News from Around Town
Mea culpa; 24-hour theater project seeks talent

ITEM: When your Curtain Calls team screws up, we don't fool around!
"I was appalled at the misspellings," a concerned reader wrote regarding the review of "The King and I" that appeared in last week's Curtain Calls XTRA. "Rogers and Hammerstein should be Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephanie Powers should be Stefanie Powers, Yul Brenner should be Yul Brynner."
The reader is correct, of course, and a horrified theater critic and his equally embarrassed editor beg their readers' forgiveness.
No explanations – or excuses – will be offered. The simple fact is this: We didn't do our jobs to the level our readers expect, and for that we apologize! And we'll redouble our efforts to make sure it doesn't happen again!
(We extend a sincere apology to Ms. Powers, as well! Sorry about thatÉ)
ITEM: Sunsets with Shakespeare's 24 Hour Theater Experiment is set for Feb. 25 and 26 at the RE Olds Anderson Rotary Barn in the Lansing area, but they can't pull it off without the participation of interested writers, actors and directors.
"It's an amazing event," Sunsets' Todd Heywood recently told Curtain Calls. "You always get some amazing theater out of it."
The concept is quite simple: Pre-selected writers gather together at 8 p.m. on Feb. 25 and create original scripts that explore a common theme. At 7 a.m. the writers meet with the directors to discuss the scripts, and at 8 a.m. the actors enter the mix. And twelve hours later, the curtain goes up on several world premiere productions!
"You don't have to have any experience as a writer or director," Heywood said of those who wish to participate in the project. "We really want to encourage new talent and help people find their voices."
Interested writers are asked to submit a letter of interest, a resume of related experience and a one-page dialogue sample; directors should submit a resume; and actors a resume and recent headshot.
Submissions and inquiries may be sent to Heywood at [email protected].


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