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Vermaak | Entertainment > Teater | Theatre > Resensies | Reviews

Boston Marriage - an amusing piece of theatre, if somewhat repetitive


Anton Krueger - 2006-10-16

Showing at the Theatre on the Square until 21 October, alternating with Yasmina Reza's Art. 

I was curious to see Boston Marriage, because I'd heard that the cast included three female roles. I was wondering whether or not David Mamet could write female characters, since his reputation rests largely on fast-talking, very masculine male leads, and this is a play about two lesbians and a maid.
 
Mamet's men are abrupt, even brutal creations. More often than not they're also emotionally dysfunctional. Here, although the characters – Anna, Claire and Catherine – are fully rounded, they're not really very feminine. These are tough, butch women; they're vicious and scheming and inconsiderate. In fact, they remind one,  in many ways, of men.  
 
The play is set in the year 1900, and perhaps Mamet has deliberately chosen a Victorian setting in order to amp up the sense of controversy. Since it's become increasingly difficult to come up with a topic which is controversial, it's a clever device to set the play in the past, when lesbianism might still have raised an eyebrow.
 
And yet, as the programme notes would have us know, the term Boston Marriage refers to a complicit allowance for two spinsters living together, and John Fowles has also written that women used to sleep together as a matter of course at the time, and that it wasn't considered lesbianism. Queen Victoria herself is famous for not knowing the meaning of the word, it not having occurred to her that such an arrangement was possible. But in the light of the ongoing debate about same-sex marriages in South Africa (and the fact that there is a debate at all) one might be tempted to agree with Foucault that we are the "other Victorians", that it's rather too soon to pat ourselves on the back for having been liberated from those old-fashioned prejudices.
 
Oddly enough, although the set, costume and props are firmly end of nineteenth century, the language – despite an occasional "Oh La" – is modern to the point of being anachronistic. Perhaps the only very Victorian thing about the script is the permissibility of adultery, which went out of fashion in the Anglo world some time ago.
 
Nevertheless, it's an amusing piece of theatre, if somewhat repetitive. Anna and Claire are long-standing friends and occasional lovers. The plot relies on a central coincidence: that the ingénue whom Claire wishes to seduce is the daughter of Anna's most recent lover. This might not be enough to sustain enough tension over the course of a full-length piece, but the endless sidelines and diversions almost make up for it.
 
The lead role of Anna is excellently interpreted by Clare Mortimer, and the uncompromising bitch she creates for the role is perfect. Belinda Henwood as Claire is exquisite, conveying an excessive Southern lushness, sensuous and eminently desirable. Janna Ramos-Violante as Catherine, the bumbling maid, is a lovely foil for their comedy, though Mamet might have made use of her one time too many to change the dialogue or save it from slipping into one of its repetitive loops. Her staunch Scottish accent is persistently interpreted as Irish by Clare and allows for the play's funniest moments as Mamet takes a hard line and a sneer at victimisation. The Irish potato famine has never been so funny.
 
I was grateful that Steven Stead didn't find it necessary to foist yet more American accents on us. It was a relief to escape the television for an evening and hear accents other than those of the United Snakes. It did get me wondering, though, how old the US accent might be – old Hollywood films become more and more British the further back into the century they go, and it's possible to imagine that perhaps it didn't exist at the turn of the century. I don't know – possibly this is the more neutral accent which was spoken in Boston in 1900.
 
Whatever the case may be, the KickStart company is doing a great job of connecting us to the rest of the Anglo theatre world. Plays about local realities are all very well – and absolutely necessary – but it's also good to keep in touch with the rest of the planet, and the company continues to deliver international favourites with quality and class.