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Boston Marriage Notes on the Production

David Mamet is mostly known for his portrayal of men and male-dominated society. “Talking about Mr. Mamet’s women is a bit like talking about Renoir’s men. They have always been a secondary part of the vision, painted less vigorously and positioned less conspicuously on the canvas.”(1) Although women are not central to many of Mamet’s plays, feminine power does permeate his work. “Having created a macho culture from which women are excluded, and that is at least partially defined by their absence, Mamet’s men have ironically bestowed power upon women by virtue of their own fear—the fear of rejection that will deny their masculinity.”(2) In 1987 when Mamet made his film directorial debut with House of Games, he finally chose to integrate a prevalent female. The protagonist Margaret Ford was one of Mamet’s first complex and integral female roles. Margaret begins the play dressed and acting like a man, but once she is initiated into the male world of gambling, she ends the movie dressed in women’s clothing and makeup. The gender transformation and strength of Margaret indicate Mamet’s blatant acknowledgement of the power that women possess in a man’s world.(3)

In Speed-the-Plow, the role of the secretary Karen is one of Mamet’s first to allude to the potential power of a peripheral female characters. Although Karen, originally played by Madonna in the 1988 production, is on the surface subversive and an object of desire, she instills a seed of suspicion in the audience’s minds. Even though Mamet does not explicitly state that Karen is smart enough to scheme, the audience cannot help but wonder. Could she possibly know more than she is letting on? Mamet appears to be hinting that, although they are not usually the centerpieces of his plays, he does not discount the power of women.

In 1993 Mamet wrote the play Oleanna, one of his most significant portrayals of a strong and intelligent woman. Carol, the young student, is smart and devious, simultaneously both the villain, a traditionally male dominated role, and the victim, a traditionally female dominated role.(4) Carol could hold her own among the best Mamet con artists.

Boston Marriage is Mamet’s one and only script to date with a solely female cast. With its historical setting, Edwardian language and female cast, Boston Marriage is unique among Mamet’s repertoire. However, its differences do not mean that Boston Marriage lacks Mamet’s signature style. “‘Mametspeak’ leads to ‘Mametude,’ another journalistic term defining the disregard, disrespect, and deceit expressed by his tough characters. Richard Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross, Bobby Gould in Speed-the-Plow, and even Anna in Boston Marriage have it.”(5) In addition to language, one of the strongest overarching themes in Mamet’s works is the presence of the lie or the con.6 This theme permeates the 19th century world of Boston Marriage; even proper society ladies are subject to Mamet’s devious characterizations. Thus, although Mamet may not draw upon women as inspiration very often, he still recognizes their power and influence.


“Boston Marriage” is an antique term that refers to two single women living together, independent of any male counterparts or support. The term was originally coined in reference to Henry James’ 1886 novel The Bostonians which describes the relationship between two wealthy female Boston residents who live together. James himself referred to the novel as “a very American tale,”(7) thus implying that the quiet acceptance of discreet homosexuality is a uniquely American act. A Boston Marriage was a smart underhanded way for women to be independent during the 1800’s. They could be not only nurturing relationships but also relationships of equals in terms of finances, responsibilities, decision-making—all areas in which the husband claimed precedence and advantage in heterosexual marriage. They potentially fostered rather than interfered with the heady and exciting new ambitions of the early generations of professional women.”(8) Rather than living with their parents or a husband, wealthy women took up residence with another female friend and became financially independent. A Boston Marriage offered a unique form of female freedom. It was in fact easier and more acceptable for an educated business woman to be a spinster with a close female friend or spouse than to be a wife with a husband.(9)

Although a Boston Marriage was a same sex union, it did not necessarily imply a sexual relationship. “Most likely, the Boston Marriage was many things to many women: business partnership, artistic collaboration, lesbian romance. And sometimes it was a friendship nurtured with all the care that we usually squander on our mates.”(10) A Boston Marriage could even be viewed as a sort of rehearsal for legal marriage; a rehearsal which retained a woman’s most sacred gift, her chastity.(11) Originally the Boston Marriage was created so that wealthy women could live independently and pursue whatever intellectual or pleasurable pastimes they desired. “The women involved in them tended to be college-educated, feminist, financially independent, and career-minded—hardly the social norm among females of the day.”(12) Although Boston Marriages did not originally imply homosexuality, one cannot help but find irony in the name of the Boston Marriage and the fact that in 2004 Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Perhaps Henry James knew what he was writing about all along when he chose Boston as the setting for his novel.

Throughout history many women have participated in Boston Marriages and often times these relationships have cultivated revolutionary authors, artists and political activists.

Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Adams Fields. Sarah Orne Jewett was known for writing short stories which illuminated love and friendship between women.(13)

Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith. Jane Addams founded the Hull House in Chicago and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931.(14)

Alice James, Henry James’s sister, and Katharine Loring. Some claim that it was his sister’s Boston Marriage which inspired the novel The Bostonians.(15)

Eleanor Charlotte Butler and Sarah Ponsonby a.k.a. the Ladies of Llangollen. Butler and Ponsonby were childhood friends who decided to run away and purchase a home together in order to retain their independence. The Ladies of Llangollen became a phenomenon in England during the 18th and 19th centuries.(16)

Anne Whitney and Abby Adeline Manning. Whitney was a poet and a sculptor, whose work includes the sculpture of Samuel Adams that stands in front of Faneuil Hall.(17)

Susan B. Anthony and Emily Gross. Susan B. Anthony spearheaded the American suffrage movement and early feminism.(18)

Lucy Anthony, Susan B. Anthony’s niece and Anna Howard Shaw. Anna Howard Shaw was a president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association.(19)

Notes on the production by Colleen Hughes

1 Richards, David. “Mamet’s Women.” New York Times January 3, 1993: 1. Print.
2 Blansfied, Karen C. “Women on the Verge, Unite!” Gender and Genre: Essays on David Mamet. Ed. Christopher C. Hudgins and Leslie Kane, New York: Palgrave, 2001, 139.
3 Price, Steven. “Disguise in Love.” Gender and Genre: Essays on David Mamet. Ed. Christopher C. Hudgins and Leslie Kane, New York: Palgrave, 2001, 48.
4 Richards, David.
5 Nadel, Ira. David Mamet: A Life in the Theater. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, 5.
6 Ibid, 215.
7 Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1981, 190.
8 Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Penguin Group, 1991, 18.
9 Faderman, Lillian. “Nineteenth-century Boston marriage as a possible lesson for today.” Boston Marriages: Romantic but Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians. Ed. Esther D. Rothblum and Kathleen A. Brehony. USA: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1993. 29-42. 30.
10 Kennedy, Pagan. “Are You Two Together?” Ms. Magazine. <>.
11 Faderman, Lillian. “Nineteenth-century Boston marriage as a possible lesson for today.” 32.
12 Theophano, Teresa. “Boston Marriages.” Glbtq. 2002-2010. <>.
13 Lindemann, Marilee. “Jewett, Sarah Orne (1849-1909).” Glbtq. 2002-2010. <>.
14 Prono, Luca. “Addams, Jane (1860-1935).” Glbtq. 2002-2010. <,2.html>.
15 Theophano.
16 Diggs, Marylynne. “Romantic Friendship: Female.” Glbtq. 1995, 2002. <,3.html>.
17 Williams, Carla. “Whitney, Anne (1821-1915).” Glbtq. 2002. <>.
18 Rapp, Linda. “Anthony, Susan B. (1820-1906).” Glbtq. 2004. <,3.html>.
19 Ibid.

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