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 comedy 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…As done by Costa Mesa Playhouse, the Marriage of Bette and Boo hits just the right tone.
This was such a good show. Based on 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 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 narrate. Matt alternates between being an active player in the story and waxing philosophical outside the scene. Bette and Boo themselves begin the story as a happy couple that just got married amid 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 dreams, goals, arguments, and 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 people outside the United States. With such a diverse group of characters to choose from and a wide variety of fears and desires, you will be able to find at least one person onstage to identify with. Severe events in this play would not be that entertaining if not for the haste with which they are performed. This could easily be made into a tragedy. Fortunately for the audience, the jokes are presented abruptly. This abruptness enables us to see the fun in what were undoubtedly harrowing moments in the family of Christopher Durang.
Actress Suzannah Gratz nailed her part as the endlessly apologetic and inept sister of Emily Brennan. I’d also like to mention Dana Cook’s exceptional performance as Soot. This woman 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, something about the individuals they play 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 could not care less? The mother who feels a relentless desire for something more? It is nothing if not profound how well this play captures the image of so many hearts and minds, all of this while making the audience laugh.
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 are at a cheap tea party on Valentine’s Day. It works very well with the material, helping the audience focus on the characters and not the background as they pull you 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. Get your ticket.
April 10th – May 3rd