John Glover, Julie Hagerty, Christopher Evan Welch,
Kate Jennings Grant, and Charles Socarides
in The Marriage of Bette and Boo
(© Joan Marcus)
John Glover, Julie Hagerty, Christopher Evan Welch,
Kate Jennings Grant, and Charles Socarides
in The Marriage of Bette and Boo
(© Joan Marcus)
Put Christopher Durang down in indelible ink as one of America's funniest writers. When it comes to comic bits, he can always be counted on to reduce audiences to extended giggles and even tears of laughter. But often what he puts forth as his plays are a series of comedy sketches that don't quite add up to finished works. However, a case can be made that The Marriage of Bette and Boo -- now being given a well-crafted Roundabout Theatre Company revival at the Laura Pels -- is his one truly successful play, even if it probably doesn't need to be the two-act length at which it clocks in.

Admittedly the author's most autobiographical play, Bette and Boo started theatrical life as a 45-minute sketch when Durang was a Yale Drama School student (along with Meryl Streep and Sigourney Weaver, who appeared in that version), as he was grappling with the parental dysfunction he'd endured while growing up. But it wasn't until later that he added narrator/son Matt (Charles Socarides) to describe what transpired -- as Matt either learned or imagined it -- between the married-on-the-rebound mom Bette (Kate Jennings Grant) and alcoholic dad Boo (Christopher Evan Welch) and their respective families over the 20-plus years.

As the work speeds along from the nuptials to the arrival of several stillborn babies, the couple's divorce, and Bette's final illness, Durang connects all the dots in this play. What works so well here, though, is that he acknowledges them as dots: the play consists of 33 distinct sketches in which he deliberately reduces his characters to two-dimensional figures -- maybe two-and-a-half dimensional figures -- that underline his take on the understanding we do or don't reach about our families. Indeed, Matt begins the play talking about analyzing his family; but by the time he's shown all the failed holiday get-togethers and other dodgy and volatile events -- and also digressed excessively about the Thomas Hardy novels he's studying at Dartmouth -- he realizes he can come to no satisfying conclusion about them. He can only exercise acceptance.

Director Walter Bobbie, a naturally funny man himself, has enlisted 10 eager players, whom he keeps on the hop. Wearing Susan Hilferty's wedding gown (or the cocktail version into which Bette converts it), Grant transforms efficiently from a too uninformed bride to a long-suffering wife and grieving mother. Welch -- with long black hair slicked back when Boo is sober and hanging over his left eye when plastered -- has this well-meaning but clueless man down pat. Socarides, in the work's sole realistic role, is so engaging that you immediately root for him.

Representing Bette's side of the wedding aisle are the endlessly creative Victoria Clark as mother Margaret, Adam LeFevre as unintelligible father Paul, Zoe Lister-Jones as cranky sister Joan, and Heather Burns as flighty sister Emily. On the groom's side, Julie Hagerty is dithering upper-class mother Soot and cigar-wielding John Glover in flattop is overbearing, insulting dad Karl. Terry Beaver doubles as the sometime gracious, sometimes brusque Father Donnally -- Durang may be steeped in his Catholic upbringing, but he's also deeply skeptical about it -- as well as the doctor dumping all those stillborns on the floor. They may all only have two dimensions to work with, but they make each one fully dimensional.