The Geffen Playhouse’s L.A. premiere production of David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage” has at least one terrific perf. Unfortunately, in this mess of a play, Mamet uses the lesbian aspect of the story as window dressing, an excuse to indulge in a long series of intellectual witticisms. Some of them are successful, but most of them pile gracelessly upon one another in a catastrophe of cleverness.
Alicia Silverstone, however, steals the show as the hapless Scottish maid Catherine. Her Scottish accent is good, her comic delivery is fresh, and she gets the maximum laugh value from each wobbly curtsey. Her character is the one thing in the show that Mamet gets absolutely right, although she is used a bit repetitively.
As “Boston” opens, Anna (Mary Steenburgen) is eagerly awaiting the return of her lover Claire (Rebecca Pidgeon). She has acquired a male protector to provide a lavish lifestyle for herself and Claire, even though she has no romantic interest in the man. When Claire returns, however, Anna is duly horrified when Claire announces she has fallen in love with a significantly younger woman.
To add insult to injury, Claire is bringing the girl over to Anna’s house that day, and would like to borrow a bedroom for amorous activities. Catherine (Silverstone) is just trying to do her housework amidst the barbs and retorts, but soon the ladies’ actions will have unexpected consequences that affect them all.
Encumbered with many overwritten speeches,Steenburgen in never convincing. Her perf seems like an attempt to re-create the voice of the young Katharine Hepburn, but it never clicks. Under Mamet’s direction, she speeds through lines that may read well but don’t play well, and the effect is of a tone-deaf reference-spewing Dennis Miller on fast-forward.
To be fair, her character is chided for being pompous a few times, but Mamet seems to want to have it both ways and gives her monologue after wordy monologue. Anna is not so much a character as an overstuffed collection of obscure poetic statements and wannabe bon mots.
Pidgeon fares better as the more grounded Claire, and she brings a tart authority to her comedic line readings.
The main flaw with Mamet’s play is that the characters don’t seem real, which would be OK if they were stylistically interesting. “Boston Marriage” is more like an Oscar Wilde pastiche than a play in its own right.
Debra McGuire’s costumes are striking and lush, particularly Pidgeon’s beautiful ruby and emerald outfits. Although it’s admirable for Mamet to have tried something different with this show, it seems unlikely to be a candidate for revival.