In graduate school, Stephen Drover “dabbled” with the work of American playwright David Mamet, but he had never directed a full Mamet play.
So when the Guild Theatre’s artistic director, Katherine McCallum, told him of the Guild’s plans for a professional co-production with Sour Brides Theatre of Mamet’s 1999 play, Boston Marriage, Drover was definitely interested.
Especially since the play is not typical David Mamet fare, such as American Buffalo or the Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross.
“That’s one of the reasons I was attracted to it,” Drover says. “He’s known for several things: one, that he writes for men, and two, that he writes for men who don’t know how to talk to each other.”
In contrast, Boston Marriage has an all-female cast that doesn’t speak with what Drover calls the “lackadaisical kind of quality” that characterizes most Mamet dialogue.
“This is very polished language, very heightened,” he says. “So you’re charged with negotiating rich language like a classical play, yet negotiating contemporary sensibilities like a new play, and trying to make those two things work.”
Yet, being a Mamet play, Drover says, it “does follow some of the same tendencies – rapid-fire dialogue, flippant attitudes about social norms, that sort of thing.”
The term “Boston marriage”, which was used as early as 1866 by the novelist Henry James, refers to a domestic relationship between two women with the inclination – and the financial means – to live independently of men. It may or may not include a romantic bond.
In the Mamet play, which is set in 1900, the two women are Anna, played by Sour Brides co-founder Moira Sauer, and Claire, played by McCallum in her Whitehorse acting debut.
The third character is the Scottish maid, Catherine, played by Vancouver actor Arabella Bushnell, who also designed the set and costumes for this production.
The basic premise, as Drover explains, is that Anna has just wooed a man into being her protector.
“She essentially becomes his mistress, and he’s decided to support her and give her a monthly stipend, with which she’s going to support her and her partner/friend, Claire, in the level of style to which they are accustomed, being ladies of fashion.”
To complicate matters, “Claire comes to Anna saying, ‘I’m in love with a younger woman, and I need you to help me seduce her, by providing me with a place where we can have a furtive and clandestine assignation.'”
Anna’s benefactor also gives her a beautiful and expensive necklace, which eventually triggers a major plot twist.
The play, Drover says, examines the question of what rules should govern a relationship.
“Every relationship has its own rules, and in this one we see two people struggle to negotiate what are the rules of this relationship, and how are we going to deal with each other? What are we allowed and not allowed to do?”
With Boston Marriage, he suggests, Mamet “went out of his way to show that he could write for women” rather than turning his characters into typical Mamet males.
“There is a definite femininity to the qualities of the characters, in that they do have redeemable qualities, more so than I think a lot of Mamet’s men do,” he says.
“So it’s softer and it’s a bit gentler, even though they do eviscerate each other with language and they are quite sharp and cold in some respects.
“And they accuse each other of being so, too, which is something that Mamet men don’t do. These women are pretty good at identifying what they’re doing and what the other person is up to.”
Drover, who is 37, received a Bachelor’s degree in acting from Memorial University before doing his Masters in directing at the University of British Columbia.
He travels extensively as a freelance director, as well as teaching and running his own company, Pound of Flesh Theatre, in Newfoundland.
Asked if he plans to stay in the sometimes precarious field of freelance directing, Drover’s response is unexpected.
“I’d take a motorcycle maintenance job if someone offered it to me. At this point, I can’t do anything else. I don’t have any other skills,” he claims, as Sauer hoots with laughter in the background.
Sauer says she hadn’t heard of Boston Marriage until McCallum approached her with the idea of a co-production. It was Mamet’s language that caught her attention.
“When Katherine came forward and I actually read the script, I fell in love immediately.”
McCallum, who studied at the theatre company Mamet founded in New York, had her own reasons for taking on Boston Marriage.
“I didn’t really have any interest in scheduling yet another Mamet play, with men who were just swearing at each other and being gross and disgusting,” she says.
But this Mamet play appealed to her “because it is three women onstage, which is so rare for him.
“And it’s not just three women onstage. It’s three sassy, intelligent, real, funny, emotionally raw women. It’s grand. It’s a wonderful play.”
Boston Marriage runs at the Guild Hall from November 16 to December 3, with a one-night engagement at the Oddfellows Hall in Dawson City on November 28.