Boulevard Theatre serves up family dysfunction for Thanksgiving
Christopher Durang’s 1985 Obie award-winning comedy, The Marriage of Bette and Boo, continues the Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre’s 23rd season when it opens for previews on Nov. 24. The serious-comedy play is essentially the autobiography of Durang’s youth. You witness the quiet, shy and intellectual Skippy — the son of Bette and Boo — as he immerses himself in great literature. All the while, he is surrounded by the chaos and calamity of his greater family’s dysfunction.
It’s an outsider’s view of the world, represented by mismatched parents, aloof grandparents, neurotic aunts, a speech-impaired uncle, a theology-impaired priest and a culturally distant doctor. For many, it’s a very familiar world. And, yes, it’s still a comedy — albeit a dark one. In the grander scheme of things, and with that lineup of characters, how could it be anything else?
The comedy evolves out of familial love and affection impaired by each member’s attempt at normalcy (as seen during a wedding, a honeymoon, holidays, a birth and a death). Each event presents unsolved conflicts that Durang articulates with grace and insight.
Weeks before the play’s opening, TCD visited the Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre in Bay View and spoke with Artistic Director Mark Bucher and Production Director Paul Madden. Even then, the play’s outer shell was already in place. Blocking was in the fine-tuning process. And, in its raw state, the production was compelling.
Bucher seems to have once again found a perfect vehicle for his multifaceted mission. As an educational tool, the play provides leading roles for three young actors within a large cast of veterans. It also offers relevant, thought-provoking theater to Milwaukee audiences.
“You don’t get ‘more gayer’ than Christopher Durang. It’s an autobiographical work. It’s about being the outsider, and that’s part of our lives,” Bucher says.
The Marriage of Bette and Boo provides a forum for the A.D.’s particular holiday spirit. Opening on Nov. 24, just two days before Thanksgiving, this is a show unlike the obligatory merry and saccharine Nutcracker and Christmas Carol fare. It’s a present wrapped in wrinkled, tension-patterned paper and tied with a constricting bow. Still, with a genuine heart, it’s a tribute to family and in particular, to mothers.
The two-act, 33-scene play, with a cast of ten, is a study in choreography and stagecraft. The Boulevard’s limited space and budget make efficiency a prerequisite for success. Sparse sets and creative use of minimal resources have become this venue’s hallmarks. Bucher is an expert at traffic control and creating illusions.
“The actors’ entrances and exits throughout the play are the scenery,” Bucher explains. “The play is full of intelligence, artifice and wit, and it’s an opportunity for young actors to learn an important script.”
The lead roles are all cast to new talent. Paul Madden (Skippy) is a current UWM student; Anne Miller (Bette) is a recent UWM alumna; and Ken Dillon (Boo) is an up-and-coming young actor.
“I like to cast people who can identify with the role,” Bucher muses. “All of the characters, and particularly the leads, share something with the actor playing them. Like his character (Skippy), Paul is thoughtful and perceptive. He’s also familiar with the books quoted in his dialogue. He’s prepared for the role, and he knows why the books are cited.”
Madden agreed, adding, “Skippy mentions three of Hardy’s books. Each has close ties to the conflicts within this play. Particularly, inner conflict and guilt. There’s also a certain amount of luck that I can closely relate to a lot of what is happening inside of Skippy.”
“Anne and Ken as Bette and Boo have their own associations with their roles,” Bucher says. “Anne is the winner and upbeat, while Ken is sensitive and empathetic.”
Bucher concludes, “Chris Durang’s Marriage of Bette and Boo is a great antidote for holiday sentiment.”
The Marriage of Bette and Boo runs Nov. 24 through Jan. 2, 2010. For ticket and performance information, visit the Boulevard Ensemble Theatre website or call 414-744-5757.