Playbill Readers' Circle for November: 'Great Dream of Heaven' and Boston Marriage

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"Great Dream of Heaven" by Sam Shepard (Knopf)

Pulitzer-winning playwright Sam Shepard continues his exploration of the mythos of the fallen American West in this book of 18 short stories that are very much a piece with his more realistic country plays like Fool for Love and A Lie of the Mind.

Set in a desolate, truck-stop ridden arc from Arizona to northern California around through Montana to Minnesota, these are portraits of people living lives of sweaty desperation. The characters always seem a few payments behind on the mortgage, stuck in dead-end relationships, and trying unsuccessfully to restart the rusty engines of their lives.

"An Unfair Question" shows a man whose agonizing memories are stirred up when a woman starts asking him about guns.

In "Coalinga 1/2 Way," a man phones his wife from the road to tell her he’s leaving her for another woman. "Blinking Eye" follows a woman on a road trip with her mother’s ashes, who tries to rescue an injured hawk.

"The Remedy Man" vividly describes an expert who is summoned to a ranch to demonstrate his unique method for breaking unruly horses.

In "The Door To Women," an old man who tries to persuade his grandson to date a pretty girl despite the fact that all the women in their family have abandoned them for one reason or another.

These stories are set in hot, dusty places: cow lots, horse paddocks, gas stations and roadsides. Sometimes they seem to want to turn into country songs, sometimes seem to want to turn into Sam Shepard plays. All show us people who appear to have been cast out of some parched leather Eden.

Boston Marriage by David Mamet (Vintage)

One of the funniest, best-written new plays comes from a highly unlikely source, taking on a highly unusual subject. David Mamet, Pulitzer-winning author of foul-mouthed, tough-guy, gynophobic dramas like Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo and Oleanna, has thrown out his playbook to produce no less than a sparkling Oscar Wilde-like comedy about two highly articulate and love-struck lesbians. On top of everything else, this male-free bijou has almost no swearing and . . . a happy ending! Yes, girl indeed gets girl.

Will wonders never cease?

The playscript could scarcely have been published at a better time, as the play itself opens this month at the New York Shakespeare Festival/Joseph Papp Public Theater after a tryout in Boston (natch).

Boston Marriage brings the gay subtext of Wilde’s plays out of the closet and makes it the center of the conflict. (The title is an old-school euphemism for a lesbian couple.) Claire and Anna are former lovers somewhere in late nineteenth-century England. Claire comes to Anna with a painful request: She needs a secret place for a tryst with her new love, a luscious young thing she hopes to seduce. The place she seeks is Anna’s boudoir. Anna is, of course, hurt and outraged. The two engage in witty recriminations as sharp as fragments of broken crystal as Anna reluctantly agrees to host the assignation, and sets about grudgingly helping Claire make the arrangements.

Complications ensue, and there is a fair amount of bother involving an Irish parlor maid and a lost jeweled necklace that holds the key to everyone’s future. Will their sexuality be revealed to the Victorian world, and their reputations destroyed? But just when things look their worst, the two women realize they are each other’s best friends. And by the final curtain, they find their love rekindled.

The foul-mouthed Mamet can be heard moving behind this damask curtain every so often, but for the most part he keeps the high-wire act perfectly balanced with an arch, dry, quality perfectly suited for this homage.

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