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.

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.