The American playwright David Mamet has a reputation for being foul-mouthed and, if not misogynistic, then just not that interested in the lives of women, whether or not they talk dirty. Partly to counter the idea that he couldn’t write for women, he created Boston Marriage in 1999. Durham’s Ghost & Spice Productions is continuing its periodic exploration of Mamet’s work with a new staging involving several firsts at Common Ground Theatre.
Guest director for the three-woman play is the redoubtable Jay O’Berski, best known for his work at Manbites Dog Theater and with Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern. O’Berski has made a specialty of producing intense and weird theater with a high IQ for more than a decade, but this is his first effort with Mamet and with Ghost & Spice.
And while two of the three actresses are Ghost & Spice company members, the third, Lakeisha Coffey, makes a strong debut on Common Ground’s tinier-than-usual-stage as Claire, one half of the eponymous Boston marriage at the heart of this romping fest of melodrama, backstabbing and useful epigrams for living. You may wish to take to heart this pearl of wisdom, uttered by Anna (the delightful Lenore Field), Claire’s pragmatic, if mercurial lover: “Stress cannot exist in the presence of pie.” Or this, given to us deadpan in a broad Scottish brogue by the comic Tracey Coppedge as the maid Catherine: “As time goes by, it all dries out.” She is, and she’s not, talking about the teacakes.
Set at the turn of the 19th century, the play employs stilted, formal language that’s belied by its content, the contemporary costuming and music, and O’Berski’s staging. To help us get all turned around to appreciate this mirror image of “traditional” marriage, he has reversed the theater, putting the stage area up on three levels of risers and the chairs on the flat. This squeezes the stage into a wide, shallow strip with big ups and downs, and into it are fitted a bedroom, living room and dining room. The overheated, pressurized effect is amplified by red and purple décor. This setup also gives Coppedge a comic parade ground. To do any of Catherine’s tasks, she in her microskirt, ruffled apron and two pounds of turquoise eye shadow must climb up, push herself through the too-tight space between Anna and Claire, and climb down the other side. This gets funnier and funnier as the plot gets more and more ridiculous. But as Anna says, shrugging, “Things occur, that is their nature.”
There is more than a whiff of caricature in these characters, and the show, while assuring us that O’Berski knows what makes women tick, may not convince you of Mamet’s deep sympathy with the female of the species, though it will happily remind you of his facility with zinging language. He does seem certain of one thingthe line repeats”Men live but to be deceived.” Maybe, but the production’s pleasure is no deception.