The Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Christopher Durang’s scathingly funny The Marriage of Bette and Boo is the first New York presentation since the play debuted at the Public in 1985, when the word dysfunctional was barely a part of our vernacular. Walter Bobbie puts a solid ensemble through their paces in a consistently amusing broad staging of the playwright’s dark comedy that deals with stillborn babies, alcoholism, emotional abuse and cancer.
Durang’s admittedly autobiographical tale examines three decades of marriage in 33 brief scenes that pointedly attack the failings of family, church, and society with a marvelous blend of irony, and farce. Although the work of an angry young man with characters that are little more than two dimensional, the play was clearly ahead of it’s time and holds up beautifully. Another of Durang’s early comedies, Beyond Theapy (now playing at Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor) illustrates this point as well. Indeed Durang, who teaches playwriting at Juilliard for the past 14 years, is best known for his works from the 1980’s, Obie award winning comedies like Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All For You, and Betty’s Summer Vacation. These are riotous satires that skewer the now epidemic dysfunctional shortcomings of our society.
The play speeds forward from Bette (Kate Jennings Grant) and Boo’s (Christopher Evan Welch) wedding, through the birth of their first son, the arrival of four stillborn babies, the couple’s divorce and then Bette’s death from cancer. Aided by the narrator/son Matt (Charles Socarides), Durang’s alter ego, the playwright manages to connect all the scenes with an inventive take on the ills that bind us. What begins as an attempt to analyze his family ends with acceptance as their marriage disintegrates, but only after he has held them hostage long enough to expose their shortcomings and outrageous behavior. To quote Bette “Marriage is no bed of roses.”
The stellar cast of 10 turns in solid work under Bobbie’s efficient direction. They walk a fine line between caricature and naturalism with a broad representational style that is often a laugh out loud riot. Bobbie’s staging accentuates the sketch comedy aspect of the play mining it for every apparent laugh. The approach leaves little room to explore the dark emotional depths of the characters. As a result, although most definitely entertaining, we are never really moved by their plight.
This is apparently a trap of the play and while all the actors are excellent at humanizing their interpretations they don’t go far enough at revealing the dark underbelly. Some are more successful than others. Victoria Clark and Julie Hagerty, as the mothers, are near perfect and Welch’s Boo, like the poignant comedy, is most affecting.
By Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
The Marriage of Bette and Boo opened at the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Tickest are available by calling Roundabout Ticket Services at 212-719-1300, online at HYPERLINK "http://www.roundaboutheatre.org" www.roundaboutheatre.org or at the theatre.