In “Boston Marriage,” now in a spirited run at Briarcliff’s Hudson Stage Company, David Mamet shows he knows a lot of words, only some of which start with the letter “f.”
“Congé” means formal permission to leave.
“Reticule” is a small string bag.
This being Mamet, there is also profanity which, juxtaposed with the arch language, offers an interesting counterpoint.
“Boston Marriage” is set in a drawing room just before the turn of the 20th century. The title refers to an arrangement where two women live together in a relationship that may or may not include a sexual component.
We meet Anna, played by Andrea Cirie, a woman of fashion whose “protector” has set her up in a fine home.
Enter Claire (Amanda Duffy), Anna’s friend, confidant and — more?
Claire plays Anna’s game — gossiping, upbraiding the help, and apologizing for showing enthusiasm — but she has come for something and doesn’t intend to leave without it.
Each takes and gives the upper hand, set to Mamet’s clever rat-a-tat. The pace is rapid and — while you might fear you’re missing every third word in a tornado of text — the relationships are well drawn.
As Anna, Cirie is by turns arrogant, ruthless and petulant, judgmental and jealous. Beyond her machine-gunning dialogue and Queen of Hearts bravado — she refers to herself as “a lioness beset” — there lies something deeper.
Cirie manages, in the play’s final moments, to reveal a vulnerability she has kept under wraps.
Duffy’s Claire will play Anna’s game, but only to a point. She is less jaded, more open to possibilities, wearing her heart on her sleeve.
Duffy changes notes on a dime, giving Claire the air of a woman whose moods are alight on the wind. These are women who don’t need education to climb.
Still, that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable, as is clear in one of the evening’s many laugh-out-loud moments.
Anna: “Are we worse off than we were before?”
Claire: “What a dreary standard by which to gauge one’s life.”
Directed by Hudson Stage co-founder Dan Foster, Cirie and Duffy ride a rollercoaster of hopes risen, dashed and risen again.
“Boston Marriage” is a chatty work — Mamet packs a lot of syllables into the evening — but the playwright is aware of the fact and even comments on it.
When, after a long stretch of give-and-take, Anna asks Claire if she believes in God, the exasperated Claire replies: “I would if you’d shut up.”
It’s as if, having set literary balloons adrift, Mamet produces a long hat pin to burst them.
As the play’s third character, Catherine the maid, Claire Neumann endures the class-born wrath of both of her superiors. Indeed, Anna can’t seem to get her name right, much less her country of origin.
Neumann’s approach is broad. Catherine is ever on the verge of tears, startled by any sudden motion, afraid of her own shadow.
Antonia Ford-Roberts’ costumes set the piece perfectly and add a gloss. Steven Kemp’s well-appointed pink set is wrapped, appropriately, in chintz, well-lit by Andrew Gmoser. Sound design is by Jon Kadela, whose talents have added dimension to Hudson Stage productions for years and who is headed to the Carolinas, a loss to be sure.
“Boston Marriage” was seen by critics as Mamet’s answer to the knock that he couldn’t write for women.
Hudson Stage’s production should leave no doubt on that score.
The cast of “Boston Marriage” at Hudson Stage is, from left, Amanda Duffy as Claire, Claire Neumann as Catherine and Andrea Cirie as Anna. David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage” is directed by Dan Foster and opens April 30 at Woodward Hall Theatre on the Pace University Briarcliff campus. Photo by Gerry Goodstein
“Boston Marriage,” weekends through May 14. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. May 8, with a Q&A to follow. Woodward Hall Theatre, Pace University, 235 Elm Road, Briarcliff Manor. $35 general admission, $30 seniors and students, Pace discount. 877-238-5596 or 914-271-2811. The Hudson Stage website.