Victorian-era comedy explores gender, class, intimacy

David Mamet is perhaps the most instantly recognizable playwright of his generation, known for terse, highly stylized and strategically crude plays — “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1984), “Speed-the-Plow” (1988) and “Oleanna” (1992) — that relentlessly dissect contemporary masculinity.

Next weekend, the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences will showcase another side of Mamet with “Boston Marriage,” a sharp and sometimes shocking drawing-room comedy centered on a pair of genteel Victorian women.

Seniors Shauna Kramer (left) as Claire and Kaylin Boosalis as Anna in the Performing Arts Department production of David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage.”

Performances take place in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre at 8 p.m. Nov. 20, 21 and 22; and at 2 p.m. Nov. 22 and 23.

Written in 1999, this tart, bantering tale explores the relationship between Claire and Anna, two scheming “women of fashion” whose intimate, longterm relationship is euphemistically referred to as a “Boston marriage.”

Claire, returning from a long (and unexplained) absence, discovers that Anna has become mistress to a wealthy man, who has given her an enormous emerald necklace and income to match. But Claire has designs of her own.

Infatuated with a respectable young lady, she tries to enlist the jealous Anna’s help in arranging a tryst. But when the young lady appears in Anna’s foyer, an unexpected crisis threatens both women’s futures.

“‘Boston Marriage’ is hysterically funny and quintessentially Mamet,” said director Annamaria Pileggi, senior lecturer in drama. “Even though it focuses on women, and even though it’s set in a historical context, we’re still dealing with con artists. I think the fact that they’re lesbian is basically incidental for him.

“Many things are never said, and a lot is left ambiguous,” Pileggi said. “We don’t know anything about these women’s backgrounds or history. The focus is on their relationship, which is sexually charged but which has now somewhat cooled. And so they scam one another, or think that they’re scamming one another, because that’s the only way that they can find intimacy — the only way left to communicate their love.”

Pileggi said Mamet’s use of language is interesting. “The writing is recognizably his, but more flowery and genteel — almost a nod to Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward,” she said. “But then, at times, the repartee becomes utterly, scathingly crass, which immediately shatters that genteel frame and contemporizes the play.

“In the end, I don’t think ‘Boston Marriage’ really has much to do with the history of Boston marriages or Victorian America,” Pileggi said. “It’s Mamet having fun with language and exploring strong characters who happen to be female.

“Anna and Claire make no apologies, and he makes no apologies for them,” she said.

The three-person cast stars seniors Kaylin Boosalis as Anna and Shauna Kramer as Claire.

Also featured is senior Adina Talve-Goodman as Catherine, Anna’s hapless parlor maid.

The period costumes and sets — the latter complete with chintz wallpaper and wainscoting — are by junior Laura Mart and senior Kerith Parashak.

Props and lighting are by senior Laura Castanon; sound is by senior Will Calvert.

Tickets — $9 for students, senior citizens, faculty and staff and $15 to the public — are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets.

For more information, call 935-6543.