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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE MARRIAGE OF BETTE AND BOO
at the Laura Pels Theatre

THE TIES THAT BIND CUT DEEPLY
By BILL STEVENSON

  John Glover and Julie Hagerty/PH:Sara Krulwich

Christopher Durang's 1985 play The Marrige of Bette and Boo is one of the darkest comedies you'll ever see. It's also one of the bleakest theatrical portraits of marriage. Yes, Durang provides funny moments, but beneath the laughs lies an extremely sad story. In the Roundabout's pitch-perfect revival, director Walter Bobbie and his excellent cast get the tragicomic tone just right.

Perhaps best of all is Kate Jennings Grant, who is endearing and heartbreaking as the long-suffering Bette. At the start of the play she's an optimistic, enthusiastic young bride who hopes to have "lots of babies." She soon realizes that her husband Boo (Christopher Evan Welch) drinks too much. He may not be as unkind as his father Karl (John Glover) a mean drunk who constantly belittles his ditsy wife Soot ( Julie Hagerty), but Boo's drinking ultimately leaves Bette feeling depressed and lonely. Her only comfort is their son Matt ( Charles Socarides), a.k.a. Skippy, who narrates the play. Bette and Boo try to have more children, but she has a series of stillborn babies. Each time the entire family lines up in the hospital waiting room only to have the doctor ( Terry Beaver) drop the dead baby on the floor. Bleak indeed.

Bette's nutty family doesn't cheer her up much. Marriage is no bed of roses, notes her mother Margaret (Victoria Clark). Her father Paul (Adam Lefevre), meanwhile, speaks gibberish. Bette's disagreeable sister Joan (Zoe Lister-Jones) has an unsuitable husband we never see, and her sister Emily (Heather Burns) is well intentioned but emotionally fragile. Not surprisingly, she ends up in a sanitarium. The Catholic Church, represented by Father Donnally (also played by Beaver), also provides little solace.

Despite the dysfunction and unhappiness, Bette and Boo is-believe it or not-a comedy. Father Donnally's monologues in the second act are hilarious, and Beaver knocks them out of the park. Margaret also has some uproarious lines, which Clark delivers with exquisite timing. It turns out she's a wonderful comic actress, in addition to being one of the best musical-theater performers of her generation. Glover and Hagerty are terrific too, but it will be hard for anyone who has lived with an alcoholic to find merriment in their borderline sadomasochistic relationship.

First staged by the New York Shakespeare Festival, The Marriage of Bette and Boo is one of Durang's most biting and sharp-edged black comedies. It's a difficult play to get right. Bobbie and his ace cast rise to the challenge, giving New York theatergoers a bracing companion piece to a more recent portrait of familial dysfunction fueled by substance abuse: Tracy Letts' August: Osage County.

 


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