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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

BOSTON MARRIAGE (article first published : 2005-08-19)

It is to the credit of supporters of Kwasuka Theatre and the KickstArt Theatre Company that they mingled in the Douglas Livingstone Courtyard outside the theatre for close on an hour tonight when a power failure plunged the theatre into darkness.

“Strapped to a deadline” (Douglas Livingstone’s words from one of his poems) to get D’ARTS magazine to print, I was on the verge of leaving and reviewing the show on another date when some enlightened (pun intended!) technician discovered the fault in the complex maze of the city’s electrical system and sorted it out.

When the lights eventually came back on, the anticipation in the auditorium awaiting the start of Boston Marriage was tangible. This bodes well for the success of what is an innovative season for this charming theatre venue that sees two productions running in tandem for the next couple of weeks with different directors and casts appearing on the same set.

Boston Marriage is written by David Mamet whose Oleanna has been described as one of the funniest American comedies in recent years. Despite the late start, the audience responded with gales of laughter to this hilarious and biting script, finely-directed by Steven Stead and excellently performed by Clare Mortimer, Belinda Henwood and Janna Ramos Violante.

“Boston Marriage” is a 19th century term used for households where two women lived together, independent of any male support. In this case, the two protagonists, Anna (Clare Mortimer) and Claire (Belinda Henwood) have more than a casual relationship. We pick up the story (circa 1900) as their lives have taken a different turn. Claire arrives home to discover that the place has been redecorated and Anna proudly announces that she has decked the bedroom out in chintz believing it to be Claire’s favourite decorative style. We later discover that Claire hates chintz but this is a humorous reminder of the frail nature of relationships where tacit acceptance can be construed as approval!

Anna now has a wealthy “protector”, which means that she is financially secure. He has given her a handsome necklace which incorporates a valuable stone but this turns out to her disadvantage as the play progresses. Clare Mortimer brings a clear-cut and academic brusqueness to the role of Anna although the structural flow of the dialogue places strain on her vocal capacity resulting in an all too-often staccato delivery.

As the manipulative Claire, Belinda Henwood is spunky and forthright, determined to get her way in persuading her “old” love to support her pursuit of new pastures. However, Anna’s desire to help go beyond the bounds of basic support!

Once you ignore the lack of period style, the script of Boston Marriage is a brilliant, refreshing and a wondrously chaotic mix of influences such as Victorian repression, Edwardian exploration into permissiveness and contemporary jargon. The dialogue sparkles, flares, cajoles and is occasionally despairing but always remains fascinating.

Into this scenario of sophisticated chatter is introduced a long-suffering maid, whose name or country of origin her employer can never remember. As Catherine, Janna Ramos-Violante has some wonderful lines and she offers an endearing interpretation of this role without once overshadowing the main performers. This is a highly talented actress to watch closely.

While there are other characters in the play – Anna’s protector, Claire’s new love interest, the volatile Cook in the kitchen, workmen who come to fix the recalcitrant stove and a variety of messengers – we never see them and this does not adversely affect the action.

Greg King has created a workable design with high ceilings, good for a period piece and its appropriate Victorian furniture. The diamond-shaped stage helps to keep the action intimate and contained and I will be interested to see how Art works on it tomorrow night. A series of impressive costumes from the State Theatre add to the quality of the production.

Boston Marriage runs in tandem with Art at Kwasuka Theatre on alternate nights until September 11. Note that shows are on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 20h00 with Sunday performances at 15h00. Tickets R65. Book through Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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