Mamet play puts society under the microscope ‘Boston Marriage’


There are a COupleSFLBof things an audience needs to know before seeing “Boston Marriage,” which opens Friday at the Youngstown Playhouse.

First, the play has nothing to do with Boston, or marriage in the traditional sense. And second, it’s written by David Mamet.

A “Boston marriage” was the name given to domestic relationships in the Victorian era between two women who live together and are dependent on each other for money, companionship and sexual satisfaction.

The Playhouse production — part of the edgier Griffith-Adler series — will take place in the intimate Moyer Room. It is directed by Anthony Ruggiero.

Typical of a Mamet work, it is driven by dialog and not movment. The 90-minute play, with intermission, is set in the drawing room of a house in the late 1800s.

There are only three actors: the couple of Claire and Anna, played by Lauren Wenick and Margie Rapp, respectively; and their maid, Catherine, played by Jill Cataldi.

Despite its premise, “Boston Marriage” is not at all risque, according to Ruggiero.

“It is what I would consider black comedy,” said the director. “It is adult in nature and certainly not for children. But the way Mamet writes, there are sublevel subjects that you have to read into the words.”

The play is a picture of contemporary society, and the sinking of the same, said Ruggiero. It deals with greed, egotistical people, people who will do anything to get what they want, class distinction, ethnic discrimination, sex and desire.

“It’s set in Victorian times, but the topics are just as relevant today,” said Ruggiero.

“Boston Marriage” also represents a new step for Mamet, in that — unlike most of his work — all of the characters are female.

The play, which takes place in a single day, peers into the unraveling relationship between Claire and Anna.

“The domineering person, Anna, is surprised by the younger Claire, who declares that she is interested in a younger girl,” said Ruggiero. “Anna is very surprised. There are many facets to this story, but eventually what happens is Anna has to figure out a way to keep Claire, because she is very taken with her. Whether she is genuine or not is probably up to the audience to decide.”

Ruggiero said the below-surface subject matter is very serious and should evoke discussion.

Mamet is known for his ability to create natural conversation in his plays, and “Boston Marriage” is a fine example.

“It’s so well-written that it borders on Shakespearean,” said Ruggiero. “Mamet uses such natural language, and that’s the challenge for the actors on stage. That’s what makes Mamet one of the most difficult contemporary playwrights and one of the best playwrights.”

Ruggiero had to overcome a late setback when the actor who was playing Anna had a medical emergency and had to quit the cast. Rapp, who is the play’s dramaturge, agreed to take over the role last week.

“We’re fortunate and lucky that she offered her services,” said Ruggiero. “[Rapp] has a grasp of the character.”

The part has a lot of lines to memorize, and Rapp might keep a script on stage. “I have no doubt in her ability to pull it off beautifully with a week’s worth of work,” said Ruggiero.

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