COMPLEXITY OF ROMANCE
David Mamet’s Practical Aesthetics is a style of acting demonstrated to a tee in his play Boston Marriage – and the Queensland Theatre Company have come to the party with their superb interpretation
If you love language, Boston Marriage is a play you will revel in. American playwright David Mamet has, as they say, a way with words. His plays require a certain style of rapid-fire delivery, too, and while that can at first seem a touch mannered, once you get the hang of it you’re in for a thrilling ride. But, boy, do you have to pay attention.
Mamet and actor William Macy originated an acting technique called Practical Aesthetics. This technique encourages an uncluttered approach to performance, allowing the full complexity of the text to come to the fore.
For this play, a Queensland Theatre Company production which opened in Brisbane last month, director Andrea Moor was exactly the right woman for the job, well versed as she is in the Mamet way. She studied Practical Aesthetics with the Atlantic Theatre Company, the outfit Mamet and Macy set up, and she has long wanted to do this play in their style.
Originally, she planned to star in it as well but seems happy to have settled on directing and she has three fine female actors to work with.
This was the playwright’s purposeful attempt to write a play about women after accusations he was too macho. Mamet, the author of classics such as Glengarry Glen Ross and Speed-The-Plow, chose a period piece (late Victorian or Edwardian) and the polite world of Boston Society, with a nod to Henry James.
The erudite Anna (Amanda Muggleton) and her “et cetera” Claire (Rachel Gordon) are a couple, attended to by Scottish maid Catherine (Helen Cassidy).
Never mind that Anna thinks she’s Irish and is constantly making allusions to the great potato famine. Claire has been away from their gracious abode (a spare but still sumptuous set designed by Stephen Curtis) and returns to announce she has a new love interest – a younger woman.
This dalliance drives a dagger through the heart of drama queen Anna, who has been having her own fun with a married man who has bestowed on her a lovely necklace, a piece of jewellery literally and metaphorically the link between parts of the complicated web that appears to have developed.
While Anna rails against Claire’s betrayal, Claire herself tries to accommodate her same-sex significant other, wanting to preserve their Boston marriage.
What is a Boston marriage? The term was coined in the genteel New England region in the decades spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries and describes two women living together independent of financial support from a man. It may or may not mean a sexual relationship but the passion unleashed in this play certainly suggests one.
While there were a few stumbles on opening night, the actors dealt with a challenging script with aplomb, although it took a little while for all of us to get into the rhythm. Once that was established things went well, with wonderful comic moments amid the drama.
It’s a treat to see Muggleton on the Brisbane stage again – she really is one of our greats – and it’s one of those plays where the lines are so good that you feel you should be scribbling them down.
Gordon is grace personified and the perfect foil for Muggleton’s Anna, who is on the verge of hysterics much of the time.
It’s a satisfying night – but don’t get distracted because you can’t afford to miss a word.
Amanda Muggleton and Rachel Gordon excel in