By Tom Titus
“The Marriage of Bette and Boo” is a family play, but those familiar with the works of playwright Christopher Durang will know what kind of family to expect – a group ranking somewhere between the Borgias and the Mansons.
Family life, with all of its quirkiness, is served up with generous helpings of Durang’s wicked satire in this offbeat comedy now on stage at the Costa Mesa Playhouse. And, this being Durang, there also are a few zingers aimed at the Catholic church, one of his favorite targets (remember “Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You”?).
Director Jeff Paul has called on a troupe of largely unfamiliar faces to bring Durang’s vintage play to life in this ensemble epic of episodic ribaldry. No time period is established, nor is one required to convey the writer’s satirical statements on love, alcoholism and mental illness, topics reportedly borrowed from the writer’s own experiences.
The title pair – enacted by Michelle Skinner and Carl Basile – are young lovers united in marriage and then barely enduring the next three decades together as all the societal traps are sprung around them. Their relatives are particularly satirized, resulting in some outlandishly memorable performances.
Skinner is especially delightful as a young lady who produces one healthy son before losing four more babies – whom she names after Winnie the Pooh characters. She’s a bit daffy, but perfectly sane when compared to those around her on both sides of the family.
Basile enacts the bloodless male stereotype who drowns his real feelings in booze. His performance intentionally lacks dimension, but hits the mark repeatedly.
The finest portrayals are delivered by Suzannah Gratz as Bette’s even goofier sister and Mark Wickham as Boo’s drunken, surly father. Gratz is a hoot as a cello player who can’t remember the numbers she’s performing, while Wickham sustains his stony character with a gnarled, alcohol-frozen face.
Boo’s mother, a giddy matronly lady known only as “Soot” (for reasons never revealed), is played in a servile, fluttery style by Dana Cook. Bette’s father, Wayne Mayberry, who speaks only in undecipherable grunts, draws large laughs after his “death” on stage when he continues to perform, shielded in a tablecloth.
Colton Dillon, as the sole survivor of the union, both acts and serves as narrator to establish a bond with the audience. Other contributors arre Mychael McDonough as Bette’s mother, Kay Richey as her perennially pregnant older sister and Phil Brickey as a priest who considers himself a showman who can’t be bothered with the common people, specifically Gratz’s loony-tunes character.
“The Marriage of Bette and Boo” is an oldie in the Durang repertoire, yet so rarely produced it’ll be new to most audiences. Its merry madness continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 3 at the playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa, with ticket information available at (949) 650-5269.