Written by Alina Mae Wilson
Indeed, a great many comedians today have proven that political and social issues can create the groundwork for sheer hilarity. But I think matching the humor that numerous comedians bring to the table is especially difficult when attempting to do it in the form of storytelling. Black humor can be dated, it can hit too close to home, it can be so strange it doesn’t make sense in the context of the actual plot, but someway…somehow…The Marriage of Bette and Boo as done by Costa Mesa Playhouse hits just the right tone.
This was such a good show. Based off the real life family of American playwright Christopher Durang, it is the condensed version of the things that happen in life and some of the ways that people deal. Matt is the son of Bette and Boo. Any narration in the play is done by him, though he later does a good deal more than simply narrate. Matt alternates between being an active player in the story and waxing philosophical outside of the scene. Bette and Boo themselves begin the story as a happy couple that just got married in the midst of their neurotic family. Time goes on, and the family continues to be a tad nutty with Bette and Boo following suit. While watching them we get an up close and personal view of this American family. They have their dreams, their goals, their arguments, and their downfalls to hilarious and tragic effect.
The Marriage of Bette and Boo has a relevance that pertains not just to the soul of the American family but to the soul of dare I make this claim, all people regardless of where they come from. Issues like pride, parental love, self-consciousness, and spousal contentions are not foreign to the people outside of the United States. With such a diverse group of characters to choose from, with such a wide variety of fears and desires you will be able to find at least one person onstage to identify with. Serious events occur in this play which would not be that entertaining if not for the haste with which they are performed. In fact this could easily be made into a tragedy. Fortunately for the audience the jokes are presented abruptly, and it is this abruptness that enables us to see the levity in what were undoubtedly very painful moments in the family of Christopher Durang.
Actress Suzannah Gratz absolutely nailed her part as the endlessly apologetic and inept sister Emily Brennan. I’d also like to mention Dana Cook’s exceptional performance as Soot, a woman who is either thoroughly unintelligent or actively working to ignore the slights heaped upon her at every turn. Although both Gratz and Cook give strong performances it is something about the individuals they play that really stuck with me–as I suspect some of the other individuals stick with other audience members. Who will speak to you more, the fighting parents? The priest who just could not care less? The mother who feels unmitigated desire for something more? It is nothing if not profound how well this play captures the image of so many hearts and minds, and all of this is done while making the audience burst into laughter.
The set looks intentionally simple, with a background of hearts painted on wooden walls as the only designated background. One gets the sense that we’re at a cheap tea party on Valentine’s Day. It works very well with the material, helping the audience to really focus on the characters and not the background as your pulled into the story.
The Marriage of Bette and Boo at Costa Mesa Playhouse is composed of comedy and tragedy in a way that I’ve not seen before, and it closes on May 3rd. Go get your ticket.
April 10th – May 3rd