The Marriage of Bette & Boo at the Masquers
This is the stuff of which nightmares are made: bad memories and worse imaginings from childhood, pretending to be funny. The Marriage of Bette and Boo is directed by DC Scarpelli and Peter Budinger. Written by Christopher Durang, the show draws close parallels to his own troubled youth. For many, parts of the story are all too true—an upbringing immersed in Catholicism, eccentric relatives, and friends with crazy families.
Lots of Masquers’ royalty is involved with this production which is evident everywhere.
Set Designer DC Scarpelli and crew did a beautiful job. Before the play opens, we sense the bridal theme. Set changes and mood are simply, cleverly created. The show is presented as a series of snapshots from the photo album of the characters’ lives. Usually I never notice lighting, here Designer Rob Bradshaw accomplishes wonderful effects.
Costuming (Designer Maria Graham, Construction Bella Scarpelli, Makeup Robert Love) is a perfect mix of simplicity and sophistication. Surprisingly, nearly everyone is a redhead.
The happy moment: left, Michelle Pond, centre rear, Robert Love, right, Craig Eychner. Photo by Jerry Telfer
Jerry Telfer, father of the groom, has found a superlative rôle as Karl, curmudgeon. Karl looks bored by others’ entrenched following of religious dogma. He takes out his frustration by violating social customs of polite behaviour. He so much enjoys breaking these rules! Jerry wins my award for Actor Most Enjoying Himself and has a smashing tie.
Soot (Nancy Sale) has found a way to tolerate her husband Karl’s verbal abuse by emotionally withdrawing. Soot retains what’s important: she is very gracious. How anyone could respond to Karl’s viciousness with giggling playfulness is beyond belief. Perhaps it helps her survive, but it does nothing for those needing to rely on her.
The wedding party: left, David Weiner, centre, Michelle Pond, rear, Anne Collins, right, Ellen Brooks. Photo by Adam Telfer
Paul (David Weiner), father of the bride, has recently had a stroke. It is irrelevant that he’s unable to speak clearly, because no one is listening to him anyway. Funnily enough, in David’s second speech-impaired rôle, I understood him quite well. Paul is an ineffectual member of the family dynamic. Could he have chosen a more positive rôle in this family?
Margaret (Ellen Brooks), mother of the bride, is a gorgeous matriarch in exciting dress. I wonder if everyone likes dressing Ellen? Margaret openly states her priorities: given the choice between healthy successful children living at a distance and emotionally crippled children living near home, she would and has chosen the latter. Did she form them or did they choose to be who they are? She hustles her misfit chicks around, lecturing them to “play nice” through thick and thin and holiday dinners.
Emily (Vicki Zabarte), sister of the bride, takes Catholic devotion to a new low. In spite of perpetual confession, she never expiates her guilt. She’s prone to histrionic outbursts. Having to go to confession because of her cello is laugh-out-loud funny. She does a beautiful sympathetic birth delivery. She is the only family member who makes any attempt to relate to her nephew Matt, but even this is inadequate.
Joan (Anne Collins), sister of the bride, illustrates that teen siblings generally hate each other and some people never grow up. Although a minor character, Joan conveys meaning with every twitch of the eyebrow. And she clearly knows a great deal about what it’s like to be pregnant. She has good reason to be angry, but has chosen to let anger dominate her life.
Robert Love (photo, centre) plays Father Donnally and the Doctor with amusingly rapid costume changes. The Doctor offends us once or twice, then is gone. From Father Donnally, one might expect some comfort, but it never arrives—just another added lunacy. Father is passionate but wholly ineffective, though not unaware of his deficiencies. On some level I can’t believe that anyone who had a religious upbringing could get so little value from it, so I find Durang’s Father Donnally vicious.
Bette (Michelle Pond, photo, left) is a self-centred bitch. In the beginning—for a few seconds—Bette is lovely and sweet, as all brides are, but then her self-absorption takes over. She’s preoccupied with her husband’s drinking even though she may be driving him to it. She is obsessed with babies even when she shouldn’t be. There’s not much room in her life for anything else, including her son when he is no longer a baby. Considering her mother, Bette’s attitudes are not so surprising, but at what point does a person become responsible for her own life?
Boo (Craig Eychner) is a boor. I wanted to like him in spite of his early appearance as a vacuous young man—I thought perhaps, like all men in love, he just looked silly.
For some reason, we all want to choose sides in an argument—early on, I wanted to defend Boo’s first drink. Soon enough, though, he’s had too much. Boo’s devotion to his wife takes no more notice of who she is than she does of him. Eventually, he becomes a maudlin old soak with reddened eyes. And never along that path does he connect with his son.
Matt (Peter Budinger), son of Bette and Boo, is trying to understand his life, often in relation to literature, usually unsuccessfully. Like everyone else, he wants relationships which may not be possible. Matt looks for guidance (in all the wrong places); we watch him play up to his mother, ignore the priest, and his father. He is the only character for whom we feel any warmth, but he, too, is wrapped in his own world. It’s not clear that he could accept nurturing should he succeed in finding it. He’s continually making half-hearted attempts to relate to his family, failing, and abandoning them.
These characters are sharp and brilliantly drawn. Not one of them is admirable, some of them quite savage. But they are all too believable. The story didn’t make sense to me because I couldn’t understand why anyone would voluntarily spend time here. I found very little of the play funny.
But—I was clearly in the minority—the audience screeched with laughter. Directors DC and Peter wrote “No one exposes the cruelties and indignities of life with the same level of hilarity as Durang. The desperate and completely thwarted needs of his characters—as well as their total inability to communicate with one another—translates into laughter of the highest stakes kind: the kind born of desperate pain.”
The audience clearly agreed with them. Maybe you will too.
How did you feel about the play? Comments are welcome.
The Marriage of Bette & Boo was performed March 25 - April 30, 2011, at the Masquers Theatre in Point Richmond, California. This review was also published in This Point In Time (TPIT), Vol. XXIX-5, April/May 2011, a publication of the Point Richmond History Association.