March 27 – April 14, 2012
Martha Cohen Theatre
Is there anything more satisfying than returning home a certified success? Stephen Massicotte’s play Mary’s Wedding premiered in 2002 at the ATP playRites Festival and since then gone on to play in cities all across Canada as well as Washington, San Jose, Perth and Scotland to overwhelming enthusiastic reviews. According to the playwright himself, since its original showing in Calgary, there has not been three months straight without Mary’s Wedding playing somewhere in the world.
So it’s a happy 10th anniversary homecoming that finds Mary’s Wedding back where it started on the ATP stage, and for the most part it was quite happily that I experienced this triumph of the Calgary theatre for the first time.
The play opens by telling the audience that what they are about to see is all dream. The dream is Mary’s, and she having it the night before her wedding. This is a dangerous premise for a play. Dream narratives can be freeing in that the boundaries of reality and time are suspended and the impossible simply does not exist. But dream plays can also be a simplistic and contrived way of storytelling that too often spirals into clichéd emotional string-pulling. Thankfully, Mary’s Wedding does a lot more of the former than the latter.
The dream audiences are witness to concerns a budding romance between Mary (Meg Roe), a young woman newly transplanted to Canada from Britain and a farmhand named Charlie (Alessandro Juliani). We watch as they meet, flirt and fall in love only to be separated by the First World War when Charlie enlists to serve his country as part of the Calvary. But the dream doesn’t stop when the two are separate; rather Mary’s dreams follow Charlie as he goes to the front lines. Instead of Mary being physically present in these war-time dreams, she morphs herself into Charlie’s Sargent, an avuncular protector of sorts that acts as both friendly ear and voice of reason for Charlie. And none of this happens in sequence. Like many dreams, events and timing get all shifted around so that one minute we are watching Charlie teach Mary to ride a horse and kiss her for the first time and the next minute we see Charlie scrambling to take cover in a trench as enemy shells rain down.
Make no mistake however; this is not overly experimental or confounding theatre. While the dream sequences do dance through time and Mary does go from being herself to acting as the Sargent, Mary’s Wedding is an easily digestible play that is simple to follow. Unfortunately at times the story veers from being an easy ride to a predictable one. In more than a few scenes I could hear the dialogue coming several lines before it was spoken and in general the story arc of Charlie at war was foreseeable. But all of this could be forgiven when considered against the play’s solid performances made even stronger by director Bob White’s clever staging.
With only wood beams and burlap sacks for sets and props, it was truly up to the staging to conjure the dream settings and White did a masterful job of using both the space and the actors to effectively create the story. Switches between dream segments and timelines were seamless with every inch of the stage used to give depth to the scenes. Confident staging and well-orchestrated pacing no doubt helped elevate this play beyond some of its more pedestrian moments.
Without a doubt, the one thing that will stay with me long after I forget the details of the story will be Meg Roe’s performance. As the main narrator of the play, a co-star in the dream and a different character and gender altogether when the war dream takes the stage, Roe delivers a performance overflowing with exquisite emotional accuracy. It’s a rare actor that can sustain believability with such a range to tackle, but Roe plays it so naturally that you can’t help but be drawn in by her talent even when the storyline doesn’t live up to her energies. For Roe alone, I would gladly sit through this play several more times.
Charlie is certainly a less meaty and challenging role to play with the character’s main mode of expression falling into the sweet, naïve but honourable category. Juliani does a fine job of the role overcoming much of the well-worn dialogue that could easily have made him seem trite instead of sweet. A less casual delivery would have been more appropriate though. I often found my ear put off with what sounded like very modern cadence and phrasing for a young man living in the 1920’s.
Occasional predictable moments of Mary’s Wedding aside, the word that kept coming to me as a descriptor for the play was lovely. It is a lovely story. At times funny, at times romantic, sometimes dramatic, a little sad, but always with that easy charming undertow that pulls the audience along with it. And sometimes it’s lovely to just be pulled at all.
For the girls – Yes it’s a romance and yes it’s a satisfying weeper if you’re into that kind of thing. But more satisfying is Roe’s outstanding performance and the chance to witness what female talent can do with a story like this. SEE IT
For the guys – I wouldn’t go so far to say that this is a chick-pop kind of play. But it is a romance as dreamed by a woman and the point of view is therefore skewed whole heartedly into female territory. Thankfully Roe’s performance saves it from being too sappy and instead gives it a more robust treatment. MAYBE SEE IT
For the occasional theater goer – I called it lovely and easy to follow. Enough said. SEE IT
For the theatre junkie – While I can’t recommend the story per se, I would have no qualms sending you to see Roe’s performance and White’s direction. SEE IT