By WILLIAM MENEZES
Set against the backdrop of a young Canadian farm boy going off to fight in what has become to be known as World War I, playwright Stephen Massicotte has crafted a multifaceted, poetical and bittersweet love story in "Mary’s Wedding."
Under the Weston Theatre Playhouse’s Steve Stettler’s confident direction, it is a poignant and suspenseful tale of love and loss.
The Great War was bitter blow to the Canadians. At the time Canada was a sparsely populated country and could ill afford to lose the nearly 67,000 young men who fought the foolishly conceived trench warfare that took so many lives on all sides. In "Mary’s Wedding," a handsome farm boy named Charlie, played by Brandon Drea, falls in love with Mary, a lovely young English woman played by Anna O’Donoghue. She is newly arrived in Canada with her patrician mother.
At the beginning of the play the farm boy, Charlie announces that this is Mary’s dream. "It begins at the end and ends at the beginning." We see Mary dressed in a simple white nightgown which she will wear throughout the play. It is the eve of her wedding, but her dream is about her first encounter with true love. She first meets Charlie during a thunderous rainstorm; they both find shelter in a barn. Though her mother objects Mary is attracted to this handsome young man, who is an expert horseman but deathly afraid of thunder and lightning.
Mary, who is quite fond of poetry, tells him to recite a poem to get over his fear. The only poem he recalls is "The Charge of the Light Brigade." ("Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do and die/Into the valley of Death/Rode the six hundred.")
The storm abates. The poem has the desired effect, and Charlie calms down. Seeing how attractive Mary is, he offers to take her out on his horse. The flowering of the love blooms with a sensual gallop home.
The course of true love is sorely tested when World War I breaks out. Charlie enlists and will serve in Canada’s famed horse brigade. The dream, as dreams often do, begins to move in and out of time and location. The foreshadowing of the thunder and lightning storm and the poem takes on added significance with each battle scene.
Meanwhile as the action shifts back to Canada, the only obstacle to Charlie and Mary’s love appears to be the Mother, who disapproves of her daughter’s fondness for the lowly farm boy. As the action on the war front intensifies, Mary’s dream becomes more feverish, culminating is one last fatal cavalry charge.
Massicotte has also scripted a wonderful conceit. Mary, still in her bare feet and white dressing gown, appears on the battlefield, but in the role of Flowers, Charlie’s commander and leader of the horse brigade. (It is Mary’s dream isn’t it?) He is quickly established as confidante and mentor to the homesick Charlie. The action seamlessly moves from Charlie and Mary before the war and Charlie and Flowers during the war.
In flawless performances, Drea and O’Donoghue are charming and believable as the young lovers. Drea creates the perfect blend of bravery and vulnerability. O’Donoghue gives us a performance that tugs at your heartstrings, while she creates the character of Flowers with a simple change in posture and intonation of the voice.
Stettler has orchestrated "Mary’s Wedding" in such a way that it melds all the arts of stagecraft. The result is that the production captures the essence of Massicotte’s elegiac script. Howard C. Jones’ deceptively simple set design serves believably as a barn, tea party, battlefield and troopship. The set is enhanced by Jeff Bruckerhoff’s romantic lighting design, while Daniel Kluger’s expertly timed and tuned sound design/composition compliments the action superbly.
One note, if you are inclined to shed a tear or two at certain plays, you might want to consider bringing and extra tissue or two, particularly at Mary’s final heart-rendering speech and when Charlie utters the final words, "You will never have this dream again." All that being said this is must-see theater.
Performances run through Aug. 5. The production takes place at the Weston Rod and Gun Club. For tickets and information, call 802-824-5288 or visit westonplayhouse.org.
William Menezes writes about theater and dance for Ovation. .