The Marriage of Bette and Boo
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
November 26, 2005
If you search the animal kingdom you will find very few species that mate for life. Which raises the question, are we meant to be with the same person for our entire lives? The thought of it seems so absurd and yet so comforting. By considering this harsh paradox, The Marriage of Bette and Boo is one of the darkest of Christopher Durang’s bleak, bizarre comedies.
True to Durang form, the two families in this play are ridiculously dysfunctional. Bette’s family is ruled by her overbearing mother who refuses to acknowledge anything that even resembles a problem. Her father lives with his tail tucked between his legs and no one can understand a word he says. Her sisters are personifications of blame and guilt. Boo’s family, meanwhile, is dominated by his drunk and insulting father. His mother only laughs with joy and suppressed rage when her husband calls her “the stupidest white woman in the world.”
Bette and Boo’s marriage starts out like most do. But their hopes and dreams are soon dashed upon the rocks of Boo’s scotch, followed by the tragedy of oh so many dead babies. Bette wants kids. And lots of them! But she’s doomed to miscarriage after miscarriage. She does manage to have one survive, her first one—though they think he’s dead at first too. He serves as the narrator for the show, occasionally flashing forward to show us how things turn out.
Bette keeps trying to have babies even though she knows they won’t live because she thinks it will save her marriage. She thinks she can change Boo but he’s a drunk and always will be. She tries to place blame and then tries to accept guilt but finally realizes that neither of these can replace just being honest with herself.
This play is brutally funny, and yet there are moments of bittersweetness that remind me of why Durang is produced so much. He is a master of brutal comedy but he never forgets to deliver us from that with moments of deep truth. Director Heather Siobhan Curran molds a smooth and even style with her actors, creating a world where the occasionally awkward dialogue seems natural.
A particularly sweet moment comes from Erin Kate Howard’s Bette in a scene where she tries to reconnect with an old friend. Howard is utterly endearing in this role. Laura Livingston is dead-on in her portrayal of Bette’s controlling mother, and Mike Durkin is a scream as her impossible-to-understand father. Matt Jared made me feel at ease in his role as the narrator. Truly, the whole cast is superb.
Ultimately, we should all think before we jump into marriage. We can’t change people. We can’t hope that feelings we have as we enter a marriage will dissolve with time. There is no one to blame but yourself if you’re in a bad marriage. This depressing subject may seem unfit for comedy, but Chris Durang has a knack for turning these sort of subjects on their heads and the Gallery Players does his work a great justice with this production.