Cocksure I stand that this lesbian play has become the first theatrical hit to reach Princeton this school year.
How fine it is to go to the theater and find yourself in a proper Boston living room, replete with pomp and circumstance. But take this turn of the 20th century propriety and subvert it with the sexual lewdness of nowadays; mix in marital deceit and seduction of a young lass by a voluptuous lesbian, and you’ll get the formula for David Mamet’s Boston Marriage, the first play of the Theatre Intime season.
Director Elizabeth Abernethy ’07, a French cigarillo always in hand, moves off the stage to enhance the reputation and trail of smoke that precedes her in this brilliant theatrical event.
The three-character play of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright runs on an intriguing and sesquipedalian repartee between Anna (Georgie Sherrington ’08) and Claire (Bridget R. Durkin ’07), as they subvert the horridly diminutive and foul-mouthed servant Catherine (Cate Adams ’08) in moving toward self-aggrandizement – in the pecuniary sense for Anna and the sexual sense for Claire.
With this premise emitting estrogen from both directions, the name of the play is all-too appropriate; the term “Boston Marriage” itself comes from the euphemistic term for two women who shacked up for emotional and physical intimacy during the nineteenth century, and in the cozy ambiguities and intimations of Anna’s past relationship with Claire, we seek what economic and amorous situations remain for these two.
But this play hinges on the characters that don’t appear, and each of the females on stage has a specific link to a mystery character offstage – Anna’s “protector” who has given her a mysterious and ostentatious jewel, Claire’s young girl seduced away from her father the protector, and Catherine’s mechanic lover with a veritable sexual appetite in the kitchen.
While much of the play’s beauty and tension comes from what does not appear, including the Godot-like “young thing” for whom Anna and Catherine tirelessly wait, the scenery and stage design strike success in the physicality of the house it intimates.
The stage at Intime is notoriously difficult to negotiate for design because of its miniscule size and odd geometry, with two walls jutting out to cut off glory, and awkward hands timidly shrouding the Promised Land.
But in this show Abernethy has produced the spitting image of an authentic cool blue, Victorian drawing room, complete with wooden floor, coffee tables, a library filled with rustic-covered books, and a glistening chandelier. The walls, adorned with molding and a pale-yellow wainscoting, are speckled with pictures (one of bathing sirens) as if by a professional interior decorator. The mirror and sherry stand provide the perfect accents for Sherrington or Durkin to utilize the ploys of the stage, to appear with even more verisimilitude in living as they would in their own bodies – looking at their visages in the glass, sipping their aperitifs.
Though this set stands as the most brilliant of Intime shows in the past few years, its glory is accentuated still more in the architecture intimated by the French doors and plants that hint at “the morning room” stage-left, or the kitchen we imagine beyond the swinging door through which Adams boisterously charges.
For the set, as for the text Mamet provides, creativity comes from making us imagine people and things that never even appear.
But when all is said and done, it is Sherrington who steals the show as the saucy and haughty Anna. Her quips are witty, her insults laugh-out-loud ridiculous. Her chastisement for Catherine is so hilarious, because through it all, Sherrington plays such an aloof Anna – ridiculously pointing at the maid’s upset for the Potato Famine, though Adams continually grips her maid uniform and insists that she’s Scottish (and she does indeed pull off an authentic Scotch accent).
Sherrington appears so effulgent and generally stunning in this performance, with its parlors replete with teas, and cakes, and ices. In her character, she has the opportunity to misquote scripture, mistake the myth of Prometheus, and speak in a charged way about her “tits” and her “muff” – hilarious when juxtaposed with her character’s general prim nature.
Adams knits her brows, sews her lips, drops her jaw in perfect comedic timing – yes even until at long last she has the chance to pronounce peremptorily and with dignity her pride for her native Scotland with dignity.
Durkin (and why is she trying to steal my last name?) has such a sultry voice, such a seductress way about her that she accentuates, without fault, the sexuality of this dramatic event.
This entire play seems an impossibility: I am amazed at how Mamet – Jewish, Chicago-born, male – manages so seamlessly to quote (albeit, spuriously) the Bible, catch the cadences of Victorian speech, and excavate the minds of women to have them coalesce into a brilliant literally particle.
It should be an anatomical impossibility for me to enjoy this play, because it is gyno-focused, concentrating on the brilliant minds of troubled women; however, just as Mamet remains removed from the issues he addresses, so can we – regardless of background – find this play a pleasure.
And what luck we have that Abernethy has found it. Perhaps Abernethy should be praised more for taste, than for execution, because of the play’s inherent virtuosity of language and wit. But this breed of humor is neither petty nor frivolous, but rather didactic.
Let us hope that those to follow in Intime’s fall schedule prove not vulnerable to critical blows, lest I pen such nasty pestilence I’ll later smugly regret.