Theater Barn, New Lebanon, NY
Boston Marriage by David Mamet. Directed by Phil Rice. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
“You Twit! You Visi-Goth!”
In Boston, in the 1890s, in a drawing room in a house owned by a female patrician, a woman waits for the love of her life to visit her. She hasn’t long to wait. for she arrives, begins a familiar scene, a fictitious counterpoint to a romantic discussion of love, their loves, their lovers. These two women have known one another a long time; they are old friends, supporters of each other’s dreams and hopes and fears and they are former girl-friends and lesbian lovers. Anna, the host, has a male lover who has given her an expensive jewel, a family heirloom he says his wife abjures. Claire, the guest, has invited a new young friend with whom she is smitten to visit her at Anna’s home, to test their new love and find out if it is real. The setup is destined for failure if Anna is forbidden to watch. She is forbidden and for other reasons having nothing to do with this attempt at voyeurism Claire’s attempted experiment in love fails and the first act ends with surprises.
David Mamet’s oddest play assumes that “fart” is a bad word, the nineteenth century edition of his normal twentieth century venom, the word “F- - k.” The situation is farcical and the language obscure; the tempo set by director Phil Rice exhausting. The two actresses, Heather Collins as Anna and Melinda Nanovsky as Claire, are brilliant at manipulating Mamet’s women into virtual viragoism. They are relentless in their beratement of one another accompanied by hugs and touches and glances. Under Rice’s precise direction they are deliciously funny and when the second act’s comical resolutions are slowly developed and played out the two attractive opposites open the doors of their lives to an old relationship that has become new once again. They manage this in the company of Anna’s maid, Catherine, who matters not at all but who matters most of all. This world would be a one-note world without Catherine.
Melinda Nanovsky as Claire, Heather Collins as Anna,
Caroilne Fairweather as Catherine; Photo: Allen Phelps
Anna - written to be over-the-top - is played with gusto by Heather Collins. Small and petite in her excellent costume deigned by Kara Demler, Collins plays Anna as a smug and petulant priss who supposes the world to be her personal plaything, a ball designed for her pleasure. She is the woman men fear yet cannot resist. She is dominant in all relationships, personal and professional. Collins can snap words into existence and drop them to the floor without batting an eyelash. She gives Anna a hauteur that chills the blood of a listener. She creates a creature in the body of a girl and animates that creature with gestures that would stop a train on its tracks. It is quite a performance.
On the opposite side of the room, most of the time, Nanovsky’s Claire is a feminine realist who can wheedle and twine her rival around her little finger with a simple twirl of her hand. Being well over six feet tall, she dominates visually but plays, with softness and simplicity, the angry and demanding Anna, controlling her at every turn. Each time she collapses into a chair or onto a divan or against a wall she threatens to become a four-foot ten-inch wonder, but Nanovsky’s height works wonders remaining dominant and exciting. As love and friendship intertwine her Claire becomes the dominant species, the leader of the pack, enticing both Anna and Catherine, and for all we know the stove repairman who never appears but seems to always be in the house.
Melinda Nanovsky, Heather Collins; Photo: Allen Phelps
Catherine, who is not Irish and has never really cared about potatoes and famine, being a Scot from the Orkney Islands, is played with lavish relish by Caroline Fairweather. Caught in the middle of this muddle in an apron too short to cry into, in a household where the stove won’t work and the cook won’t cook and the doorbell rings too often and the tea is cold, Catherine quickly develops into the sort of Maid role that most actresses would jump through hoops to play. Fairweather manages her faint Scots accent well, looms over Anna and finds the visitor almost as fascinating as does her mistress. This actress literally embodies the role. She has excellent comedy timing and a voice that rings with clarity. She is a delight to watch.
Melinda Nanovsky, Caroline Fairweather, Heather Collins; Photo: Allen Phelps