Boston Marriage

David Mamet

Donmar Warehouse

(2001)

Review by Philip Fisher

The man standing next to me at the Donmar Warehouse comes from Vermont. He helpfully defined a Boston Marriage as an unconsummated relationship between two unmarried women. This is the central conceit of David Mamet’s witty comedy of manners directed by Phyllida Lloyd.

Anna (the delicious Zoe Wanamaker) and Claire, women of a certain age, have the strangest of relationships. In fact, it is closely akin to a nineteen-nineties gay male relationship. They mix gushing admiration for each other with bitchy asides to great comic effect. These are two intellectual matrons who are stars of their New England set of the late Nineteenth Century.

Slightly long in the tooth, Anna has managed to attract an unbelievably rich man. She has used his money and status to re-design her drawing room in an unbelievably tacky Chintz in order to please Claire. She is also wearing a necklace containing what must be the largest emerald in the world. This eventually plays the central part in the plot.

Claire, played both acerbically and humorously by Anna Chancellor, has just fallen head over heels in love. Unfortunately, the object of her passion is a young, presumably teenage ingenue. In a very funny scene, Claire presumes upon the good nature and love of her friend Anna to provide a location for an assignation. This shows the two characters at their turbulent best as they fire off witticisms like duelling machine guns.

To add to the fun, a new age "slavey" or maid, played very humorously by the young Scottish actress Lindsey Marshal has just been introduced into the house and is struggling to keep up with her duties. Marshal turns what should be a relatively minor role into a very funny part that allows her to shine even in such celebrated company. Her facial expressions are perfect.

Mamet has generally chosen to write plays for small numbers of characters who fire sharp flurries of wit between themselves. The use of the female protagonists is a new departure for him and he is well served by his cast especially the wonderful Miss Wanamaker.

He mixes quick fire verbal humour with elements of farce and a considerable amount of anachronistic speech possibly as a means of demonstrating the timelessness of his subject matter. The strand of farce is very well directed and presented as we get all of the elements but with half of the cast never seen.
Mamet also explores and parodies various different literary styles often using very precious and heightened language. There seems little doubt that he had as much fun writing this play as his actors have playing it and you will in watching it. Once again the main problem is getting in to this sell out run. For the brave, it may still be possible to stand for £5 and at 80 minutes this is worth trying.