I have never come across a show that has made me cry in the car, that is until I saw Texas State’s production of The Marriage of Bette and Boo. I’ve been meaning to see this show for a while now, a high school in my district did it for their UIL One Act piece, but besides being in the same competitions I never got to see it, and bless the Lord because I never knew how much I was missing.
The Marriage of Bette and Boo did something I was never expecting, I felt that this story was going to be solely focused on the marriage. However, instead of watching a marriage disintegrate, I instead saw how a marriage like theirs can impact a child. I was no longer seeing this story unfold as an outsider, but by seeing it from Skippy’s point of view made me feel like I was actually a part of this family.
There’s something Uta Hagen said that really struck me while watching this production: “once in a while, there’s stuff that makes me say, That’s what theatre’s about. It has to be a human event on the stage, and that doesn’t happen very often.” That’s what was so beautiful about this piece, I felt as if I was watching a real, human story being unveiled before me. I felt this to such an extent that I was ready to go up and hug Bette when she was crying. I have never felt that sort of connection to a character, ever.
What scenic designer Andrew Gutierrez did to this small space was beautiful. There was a large photo album hanging over the heads of the actors, with pictures spilling out and seemingly flying around the space. This was genius because I automatically knew what was going to happen in this show, I knew that the secrets of this marriage and the things that go on behind the pictures were going to be the focus. Plus with Skippy’s almost obsession with a photo album when in “chronological” scenes having the photo album being the main focus when it came to the scenic design was simply brilliant.
Acting on a thrust stage is hard. The actors have to make sure that they’re giving enough attention and face time to each of the three sides, which is no picnic. However, through Carly Conklin‘s direction and blocking I felt as if everything was done naturally while still being very carefully thought out and meticulously done. Conklin’s direction made this show such an impactful piece of art. Not only was the blocking perfect, the scene work was gorgeous, you could tell that there was work put in, creating those relationships and the characters. With a play like this, there is that difficulty of having the actors go a bit too far with these neurotic and almost caricature like characters, but Conklin did a fantastic job at showing where the line was between real person and caricature, and not letting her actors cross it.
The acting was absolutely beautiful. The relationships were gorgeous and so layered that I forgot I was watching a bunch of college kids acting, it felt as if I was a fly on the wall of these family gatherings. Boo’s family had a very interesting dynamic that was very well done considering how hostile it was when Boo and his father, Karl, were drinking. You could see where the love was, which was nice, but also you could kind of piece together how they got to this point as a family, which I adored. Bette’s side of the family reminds me a little of mine, Margret was a loving mother who only wanted what’s best for her kids. I especially loved Paul, there’s something about him not being able to speak well that reminded me of my dad, who sometimes isn’t understood well either, not because he has trouble speaking like Paul, but because he is living in a house of women, so there’s that slight communication gap. Bette’s two sisters, Emily and Joan were so striking. Their mannerisms were so different but there were enough idiosyncrasies that the three sisters all shared that cemented that they were indeed sisters.
The title characters Bette (portrayed by Laurel Toupal) and Boo (portrayed by Chase Naylor) gave heartbreaking performances. Toupal gave Bette this childlike giddiness that was so endearing. At first I was afraid that she wouldn’t mature throughout the show, and for a bit I felt as if my worries were correct, but there was a moment where she calls up her friend Bonnie that truly showed that the childlike mask was just that, a mask. It was the moment that she admitted to losing her babies to someone she hasn’t talked to in years that was the first time during this show that I sobbed like a little baby.
Chase Naylor’s Boo was so incredibly charming. What was so beautiful about his Boo was that I could see both sides of the arguments between him and Bette, and agree with both of them. This is difficult to do on these polarizing arguments over having another child despite having another may kill Bette or on if his drinking was truly alcoholism or if Bette was overreacting. The interactions between Boo and his father Karl were gorgeously done; there was that typical “I want my dad to be proud of me” but there was that acknowledgment on Boo’s side that his father is a ticking time bomb and you never know when he’ll go off.
The son/narrator, Matt (who his mother insisted on calling “Skippy”) was portrayed by Michael Connolly. First of all, he looked like he could really be the child of Toupal and Naylor, which was kind of perfect. On a more serious note though, his portrayal of this person felt so incredibly real. We see him literally from birth to his mid 30s, and he shows the aging in such a subtle way that is something I have never seen an actor successfully do. As the show kept going it felt almost as if he was speaking to me, but more in the way of reading me an essay or showing me snapshots of his family’s life. Something I really appreciated was how thoughtful he was when approaching his monologues, he would take pauses in those moments where a real person would be thinking about what to say next, which further solidified the essay-like approach he had to his monologues of narration.
Much like Snoopy I could go on and on about this show for years, but I’m already well over 1000 words, so I guess I’ll end it here. Congratulations to the company of The Marriage of Bette and Boo, I cannot wait to see what is coming next for this fantastic group of students. I cannot wait to see if Texas State can keep up this streak they have going of not putting on a mediocre show, so far they’re two for two.