Northeast Times

Work & Play

Su­z­anne O’Don­nell re­hearses Bo­ston Mar­riage. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

— Life and an act­ing ca­reer make it tough for Fox Chase nat­ive Su­z­anne O’Don­nell to get back to her home turf. But the ap­peal of a Dav­id Mamet play has been spe­cial in­cent­ive.

Start­Frag­ment

By con­ven­tion­al stand­ards, so-called va­ca­tions are any­thing but for Fox Chase nat­ive Su­z­anne O’Don­nell.

Most people like to spend their hol­i­days away from home, trav­el­ing to exot­ic places or per­haps to the Ma­gic King­dom. But O’Don­nell comes to North­east Philly and stays in her par­ents’ house while mom and dad jour­ney off to Or­lando for some fun in the sun.

Oh, by the way, O’Don­nell spends most of her va­ca­tion time work­ing. It’s a good thing that act­ing is her labor of love.

The St. Cecil­ia’s School alumna and Flor­ida res­id­ent is star­ring in a re­viv­al of Dav­id Mamet’s Bo­ston Mar­riage, which is be­ing staged by 1812 Pro­duc­tions at the Plays & Play­ers Theatre in the city’s Ritten­house Square sec­tion. Nightly per­form­ances will con­tin­ue through May 20 at 1714 Del­an­cey St.

Va­ca­tions do have an­oth­er big be­ne­fit in O’Don­nell’s world. At least she gets a break from the hus­band and kids for a bit.

“Right now I’m stay­ing in my par­ents’ house in Fox Chase and they’re in Or­lando tak­ing care of my chil­dren,” she said.

O’Don­nell spends most of her time in the Sun­shine State per­form­ing and teach­ing with the Or­lando Shakespeare Theatre, and her hus­band Jim is the artist­ic dir­ect­or. They’re par­ents to daugh­ter Rosie, 12, and son James, 7.

Years ago, the couple met as “starving act­ors” in New York City, she said. They don’t get back to the Mid-At­lantic much any­more.

“I can do one out-of-town (show) a year,” O’Don­nell said.

“And I’m so happy this is the one,” said Jen­nifer Childs, the artist­ic dir­ect­or at 1812 Pro­duc­tions, a 15-year-old com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in com­edy.

IT’S LIKE A RE­UNION

In Bo­ston Mar­riage, Childs re­unites with O’Don­nell and co-star Grace Gonglewski, both of whom are long­time per­son­al friends and some­times col­lab­or­at­ors of the dir­ect­or.

Gonglewski, a four-time Bar­ry­more Award win­ner, last ap­peared with 1812 a dec­ade ago. Bo­ston Mar­riage is O’Don­nell’s first 1812 en­gage­ment, but she has played along­side Childs and Gonglewski in oth­er ven­ues, in­clud­ing Philly’s Ar­den Theatre.

Bo­ston Mar­riage af­fords the trio a cap­tiv­at­ing for­mula of el­eg­ant Vic­tori­an-era styl­ing, along with mod­ern gender-is­sue themes as well as hon­est, thought-pro­vok­ing and rarely found roles for ma­ture wo­men.

O’Don­nell and Gonglewski play Anna and Claire, co­hab­it­at­ing wo­men whose in­tim­acy not only de­fies con­ser­vat­ive so­cial norms of the early 20th cen­tury, but also threatens to un­der­mine their fin­an­cial and emo­tion­al sta­bil­ity with caustic­ally comed­ic ef­fect. Car­oline Doon­er com­pletes the cast as the couple’s Scot­tish maid Cath­er­ine.

“They are two fant­ast­ic roles for wo­men in their forties,” O’Don­nell said of Anna and Claire. “(As a fe­male) you spend years work­ing on your craft, then (as you age) the pick­ings be­come slim. These are two red-blooded, vi­brant wo­men go­ing at it.”

Mamet, a Pulitzer and Obie win­ner, Tony nom­in­ee and Oscar nom­in­ee, is per­haps most-known for pen­ning Amer­ic­an Buf­falo (1975), Glen­garry Glen Ross (1984) and Speed-the-Plow (1988) for the stage, as well as The Ver­dict (1982) and Wag the Dog (1997) for the screen. He com­pleted Bo­ston Mar­riage in 1999 as a de­par­ture from his typ­ic­ally raw dia­logue and mas­cu­line sub­jects.

“He is sort of known for his, what you might say, dirty mouth and lib­er­al use of curse words.” Childs said. “This is his ef­fort at writ­ing for wo­men. I don’t think (the play) has been done that much.”

SHOW IS MAK­ING THE ROUNDS

It premiered in Cam­bridge, Mass., in 1999 and has been pro­duced in Lon­don’s West End and off-Broad­way in New York, but nev­er in a Broad­way ven­ue.

“I read the play about five years ago, but some­body else had done it re­cently,” Childs said.

So she shelved the pro­ject, only to pick it up last year.

“I saw it on the shelf, re­dis­covered it and fell in love with it,” Childs said. “It be­came one of those things where I said, ‘I’m not go­ing to do it un­less I have the right people to do it.’”

Most of it is set in the lead char­ac­ters’ Bo­ston town home, so dia­logue drives the ac­tion. Ori­gin­ally, Childs had lead act­ors pegged for the op­pos­ite roles. O’Don­nell is the more di­min­ut­ive of the two, while Anna is con­sidered the heav­ier char­ac­ter.

“The lan­guage cer­tainly drives it. There will be phys­ic­al­ity brought to it, but it’s a lan­guage-based play,” Childs said. “It’s not an act­or-friendly script. You really need verbal gym­nastics to pull it off.”

“You feel like you’re in a Mas­ter­piece Theatre,” O’Don­nell said. “The cos­tumes will add so much to the piece’s el­eg­ance.”

Con­tem­por­ary audi­ences should ap­pre­ci­ate how the gender themes tran­scend lan­guage, time and place. In the Vic­tori­an era, wo­men were still fight­ing for the right to vote.

“Everything was so con­tained. They couldn’t be wo­men in Vic­tori­an times, es­pe­cially les­bi­an wo­men,” O’Don­nell said. “They were con­trolled.”

“Wo­men now are fight­ing for rights in a dif­fer­ent way,” Childs said. “But this is not a polit­ic­al play.”

“It’s not even a ‘gay’ play,” O’Don­nell ad­ded. “It could be two men, or a man and a wo­man. It’s about re­la­tion­ships and middle age.” ••

For in­form­a­tion about 1812 Pro­duc­tions’ “Bo­ston Mar­riage” at Plays & Play­ers Theatre, call 215-592-9560 or vis­it www.1812­pro­duc­tions.org. 

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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