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Boulevard’s ‘Bette and Boo’ offers different holiday slant

Boulevard Ensemble Theatre continues its 23rd season with gay playwright Christopher Durang’s “The Marriage of Bette and Boo,” opening Nov. 24.

The Obie Award-winning comedy provides a great antidote for holiday sentiment, says Boulevard artistic director Mark Bucher.

Unlike traditional holiday entertainment fare, “Bette and Boo” bears wincingly harsh witness to the dark secrets that family events can unveil. Durang wryly deconstructs such social and seasonal rituals as the classic Thanksgiving dinner with the in-laws. Audiences’ memories, fond and otherwise, are inevitably jarred.

The play has a seasonal feel, albeit wrapped in wrinkled, tension-patterned paper and tied in a constricting bow. Still, it’s a tribute with genuine heart to family and, in particular, to mothers.

Bucher, who directs the production, says “Bette and Boo” is the perfect vehicle for his theater’s multifaceted mission, which includes representing LGBT sensitivities and issues.

The play is ultimately a gay child’s story. The quiet, shy and intellectual Skippy, the son of Bette and Boo, immerses himself in great literature to escape the chaos and calamity of his family’s dysfunction.

“You don’t get gayer than Christopher Durang,” Bucher says. “It’s an autobiographical work. It’s about being the outsider, and that’s part of our lives.”

“Bette and Boo” also demonstrates Boulevard’s mission to bring relevant, thought-provoking theater to Milwaukee. As an educational tool, the play provides leading roles for the three young actors who are among the 10-person ensemble.

“(This play is) full of intelligence, artifice and wit,” Bucher says, “and, it’s the opportunity for young actors to learn an important script.”

The play’s 33 scenes play out ironically at traditional settings — holiday gatherings, a wedding, a honeymoon, a funeral. Mismatched parents, aloof grandparents, neurotic aunts, a speech-impaired uncle, a theology-impaired priest and a culturally distant doctor all struggle hilariously against each other’s shadows to strike a pose of social normalcy.

The Boulevard’s limited space and budget require the kind of precision stagecraft for which the theater is known. Sparse sets and creative use of minimal resources have become the Bay View venue’s hallmark.

Bucher is an expert at traffic control and the ability to create illusions.

“The actors’ entrances and exits throughout the play are the scenery,” he says.

“The Marriage of Bette and Boo” runs Nov. 24 through Jan. 2 at the Boulevard Theatre, 2252 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Milwaukee’s Bay View.

For ticket and performance information, go to www.boulevardtheatre.com or call 414-744-5757.

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