THE MARRIAGE OF BETTE AND BOO
Love and marriage, love and marriage, go together like a horse and...well, we all know how the song goes, and we're all more than aware of the irony the meaning holds for the state of marriage today. The irony couldn't be any clearer than in The Marriage of Bette and Boo. The story follows the bride and groom, their child, and naturally, their respectively crazy families. It's classic Durang, filled with wacky characters and over-the-top scenarios, directed by Walter Bobbie with a sparseness, clarity, and playfulness.
The show begins with a bare stage save the red felt-like walls and a wedding cake in light. Suddenly, we hear the wedding song sung by the wedding party. A mysterious young figure enters the picture to narrate, question, and analyze the family dynamic and characters almost as if he were a scientist, professor, or animal specialist. He seems to be an objective observer until it's revealed that this is indeed the son of Bette and Boo. The play begins in an idealistic fashion with the couple as happy as can be but slides into the almost predictable and inevitable pattern of ruination and dysfunction we come to expect from the family drama. The priest asks us, "How many marriages have floundered on the rocks on account of ill cooked bacon?"
The cast is really a thing to behold. Kate Jennings Grant plays Bette with volatility, going from cherry-voiced idyllic wife to rancorous growling matriarch. Christopher Evan Welch has played his share of pushover, overly-pleasing husbands, and this character is no different. Both have a wonderful chemistry onstage playing the entire range of a marriage from loving to loathing. Julie Hagerty as the mousey Soot Hudlocke isn't much of a stretch, nor is her son-of-a-bitch of a husband played by John Glover. Still, the two suffice. The real star parents are Victoria Clark and Adam Lefevre as Bette's parents. Adam Lefevre especially is wonderful in a performance where not a single line is uttered...clearly.
The play itself holds us to the test of time, for the most part. While a priest's monologue in the second act feels a bit bloated and drags, the rest of the script clips along due mostly to Durang's razor-sharp witticisms and mordant humor. One might suspect that Roundabout's timing was meant to coincide with the success of that play about family dysfunction playing on Broadway right now, and The Marriage of Bette and Boo may live in the former's shadow for the course of its run. The two plays could not be any more different, however, and indeed, the former may owe something to Durang's play, which was written long before.
The setting of Bette and Boo is a non-descript place. Bette and Boo might also be called 'lighter', despite the presence of four still births during the course of the show done to the rattle-snare drum waiting for a rim shot and a punch line and a bout of alcholism to boot. Max, the son of the title characters, examines the happiness of his family and the couples contained therein, trying to get to the answer of whether any happiness or love exists between these unhappy people. It also examines why they do not listen to each other and the power dynamics of the play. Credit must be given to the playwright and the players for creating despicable characters and a joke-a-minute routine yet still being able to find sympathy and warmth throughout. While some may see this play merely as a lark, especially compared to the epic nature of that other play, it is a solid production, quite touching and always funny, filled with some of the best performances to be seen this season.
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