Boston Marriage by David Mamet, directed by Wayne Pearn. Designed by Paul King, lighting by Stelios Karagiannis, sound design by Chris Milne. With Corinne Davies, Helen Hopkins and Eleanor Wilson. Hoy Polloy @ the Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Brunswick, until October 6. Bookings: 9016 3873.

One of the things that troubles me as a relatively naïve theatre-goer is telling the difference between the play (text) and how the production uses the material. Or, to cut to the quick, distinguishing the difference between an indifferent play and a solid production. Discussion of play and production seems to be at the heart of reviews of Hoy Polloy’s current production of David Mamet’s play, Boston Marriage. Is it an amicable production of a crude play, or a good play that goes over the head of the actors, or a play and production that deserves our rapturous applause? Matt pointed out that the distinction between text and performance seems a phenomenon of the theatre. In film, unless you are watching the work of high-profile screenwriter such as Charlie Kaufman, or a book adaptation, and even still, it will be considered the director’s film. However, due to re-staging (a film will only be re-made once, twice if it’s a franchise) of a play it will always be considered a Williamson or Hare or Mamet play.

Boston Marriage details the sometimes strained relationship between Anne (Helen Hopkins) and Claire (Corinne Davies). Claire has recently fallen in love with a school-girl, and Anne is the mistress of a wholly boring, but wealthy man who can protect her. Complications arise when it is discovered that the school girl is the daughter of Anne’s wealthy suitor and her income, and relationship with Claire, are threatened.

The prudish moments of suppressed motives and careful denials in the pairs relationship highlight the successes and limits of Mamet’s writing. There is enough of the self-aware philistine in Hopkins’ performance to enjoy, but not enough variation in her physicality and movement to bring a renewed vitality to each new scenario. Implied sensuality (they are two woman, no?) between Anne and Claire is forced and obvious. Mamet’s insights into class prejudice, through the use of the maid, Catherine (Eleanor Wilson), are so insipid on so many dull occasions, I almost frowned in favour of using less muscles smiling.

Still, Wayne Pearn’s direction is clean, the use of contemporary pop/jazz songs between acts something to contemplate, and the set, furnished with antiques and crockery and dressed in a gaudy chintz (when is chintz not gaudy?), serves the actors well. In fact, the only moment of pause during the play is when Catherine ingratiates herself into a scene by lying down on the divan in the centre of the stage and physically explaining a rowing metaphor. It seemed out of place, as she had been on the periphery most of the evening.

As others have noted the language of the play is very Wildean. But, if anyone can remember (you might have skimmed) the chapter in The Picture of Dorian Gray where Wilde goes on and on about spices and fabrics and cushions, you might recall that is the most boring and least fun part of the book. It pleases the ear while doing a disservice to the mind. And, while everything is very mannered in Boston Marriage, Mamet writes without much insight or charm. So, as much as the actors were willing and able, I didn’t have much fun, when fun seemed in the offing.