TAMPA — Boston Marriage is an odd departure for David Mamet. It's his only play in which all the characters are women, and instead of being a gritty modern drama rife with male bonding and betrayal, it's a period comedy about a pair of conniving lesbians.
The 1999 play does exhibit Mamet's trademark concern with language, but rather than the terse, elliptical dialogue he is famous for, it is stuffed with erudite Victorian nonsense and the occasional fart joke.
Jobsite Theater takes a spirited run at Mamet's absurdly mannered lark, but too often the bursts of high-falutin' rhetorical claptrap seemed to be flying over the heads of not only the audience that packed the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center's Shimberg Playhouse on Friday but also the cast.
You need a couple of magnificent monsters to portray the relationship of Anna and Claire, who concoct a "vile assignation'' between Claire and some sweet young thing, with Anna hoping to watch. Nothing much results from their scheming, but they go on and on in one of Mamet's more tedious plays.
As Claire, Emilia Sargent comes closest to filling the bill. With her alabaster complexion, red ringlets and finely etched features, she's a bit of a mad enchantress, vaguely reminiscent of Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein. She puts a droll spin on lines like Claire's wisecracks about the Crimean War.
But Claire is the counterpuncher of these sapphic dueling divas, with Anna having a more dominant role. Katrina Stevenson is not very persuasive as a kind of over-the-top Edith Wharton, a word-drunk grand dame in shiny green gown (Stevenson designed the costumes). She seems too young, and at times, the besotted banter simply overwhelms her. She does supply the requisite Mamet comic cruelty in Anna's treatment of her hapless Scottish maid, played by Alison Burns.
Sargent, Stevenson and Burns are likeable, but that's not enough to enliven Mamet's bizarre conceit. Nor has director Karla Hartley brought more than tame competence to a task that calls for brilliance.
I think Mamet was channeling the great drag performer and playwright Charles Ludlam in Boston Marriage, which might come to life with a cast of female impersonators who had done their homework on bitchiness by watching The Women.
The one aspect of the production that really clicks is set designer Scott Cooper's pink jewel box of a drawing room.
John Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8716.