The Marriage of Bette and Boo (2005)

By: Christopher Durang
Directed by: Toby Frow

Matt introduces and narrates the story of his parents’ marriage.  As the play begins Bette and Boo are being united in matrimony, surrounded by their beaming families. But as the further progress of their marriage is chronicled it becomes increasingly clear that things are not working out quite as hoped for. The birth of their son is followed by a succession of stillborns; Boo takes to drink; and their respective families are odd lots to say the least: His father Karl is a sadistic tyrant, who refers to his wife Soot as the “dumbest white woman alive”. “How did you get the name Soot?” Bette wonders.  No one knows.  Then Bette’s family includes a cheerful dominating mother who refuses to let anybody talk about anything, and a super-sensitive sister Emily who apologizes all the time, and a bitter sister Joan with whom Bette is competitive.  Her father seems probably sweet, but due to a stroke nothing he says can be understood.  “Paul, I’ve asked you not to speak,” the mother says disapprovingly.

For solace and counsel Bette drags Boo and other family members to see Father Donnally, a Roman Catholic priest who dodges their questions by impersonating (hilariously) a strip of frying bacon. Conveyed in a series of dazzlingly inventive interconnected scenes, the play moves on through three decades of divorce, alcoholism, madness and fatal illness— while Matt grows up and tries, without much success, to make sense of it all.  In the final scene Bette is in the hospital, dying, while Matt assures her God is not punishing her a second marriage outside the church.  “I don’t think God punishes people for specific things,” Matt says.  “I think He punishes them in general for no reason.”  “You always had a good sense of humor,” Bette says.  Boo arrives and joins this visit.  Although long divorced, Boo has continued to care for Bette.  And, with lowered expectations from both of them, Bette and Boo have an ease and pleasantness between them during this hospital visit.   As Matt prepares to leave, Bette slips into death.  Boo and Emily kneel to pray, and Matt offers an epitaph for his mother.  Durang