Mythbusters: the family edition
Chances are, at least once in your life, you’ve raised your eyes skyward to ask, “Why am I the only normal one in my screwed-up family?” Turns out you’re not alone in questioning your parents’ sanity, and trying to find the righteous path that will safely lead you through and out of the dysfunction.
On Nov. 19, Theatre MRU presents its production of Christopher Durang’s 1985 play The Marriage of Bette & Boo, which follows the character Matt as he traces the dissolution of his parents’ marriage and tries to make sense of it all. A black comedy at its core, the play also contains touching drama and no easy answers to the young hero’s inner conundrum, and uncovers scathing truths about love, family and finding one’s place in the world.
“He’s basically trying to figure out why life isn’t that ‘big, happy family’ kind of thing,” says Joe Fowler, the second-year theatre student who plays Matt. “It’s very real. I mean, everyone tries to live this perfect lifestyle, and no matter how hard you try it all sort of falls apart and ends up kind of shitty.”
“And it doesn’t really exist, that whole myth of the American family,” adds Glenda Stirling, the play’s director. “It’s also, in a way, about a certain period in time in North America, since Bette and Boo are married in the late ‘40s. There’s influence coming from the church with them being a Roman-Catholic family, and it reflects the time in which they lived. But at the same time, a lot of parallels between then and now are there too, so it translates to today’s audience.”
The examination of the American family and the trials and tribulations of marriage are certainly not new to art. A brief synopsis of the play conjures up images of American Beauty and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe, but the key difference is the lens through which this family is viewed. As Stirling explains, the play is structured through a series of short, quick vignettes, which Matt has the ability to control in terms of continuity. He can jump forwards and backwards in time as he wishes when he remembers something new, and it’s up to Matt (and the audience) to figure out where all the pieces fit.
On top of that, it becomes clear that he doesn’t have all the answers, and becomes a slightly unreliable guide through his parents’ lives.
“Any memory he doesn’t have, or anything he doesn’t have an answer to, he kind of attempts to reconstruct [that memory] based on gossip or heresy,” says Stirling. “He starts out really confident that if he simply analyzes everything, then he will understand why they do what they do, and how he can prevent himself from being equally miserable in the future. And as he goes through — as you do with families — he starts to see that there are so many sides to each story that, who knows? How do you analyze it? How do you put it all in order? And he loses faith in his ability to do that.”
“And there’s really no reason why shit happens; it just happens,” Fowler adds. “Whereas in the beginning, he thinks that because he is intelligent, everything will make sense. And, obviously, it kind of doesn’t in the end.”
Despite the rather futile nature of trying to examine one’s family, it is a universal theme that just about any college student can relate to.
“I never had to go through what Matt does in this play,” says Fowler, “but even I have thought at least once that my family is a bit nuts, and my family is actually a lot like Matt’s family…although maybe not as extreme. But I think everyone goes through that phase where they’re wondering, you know, ‘What the hell is wrong with them?’ So it’s very relatable. And the fact that Matt can’t come up with an answer to that or any of his questions is sort of the whole point of the play.”
Adds Stirling: “And even if you came up with all the answers in the world, it doesn’t change anything, so you might as well learn to live with it. That’s something students have to deal with every day.”