Jan 14, 2020
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
A rare theatrical treat currently graces the stage in Sebastopol, shining with a huge heart and surprisingly unflinching portrait of the costs of war, all created by just two excellent actors on a mostly bare stage in under 90 minutes. Mary’s Wedding starts off simply but finishes with a powerful emotional impact that lingers long after it ends.
Charlie (Sam Coughlin) meets Mary (Sharia Pierce) during a thunderstorm in the rural farming country near Alberta, Canada. Set circa 1917, the script informs us right up front that this is a dream, in fact it’s specifically Mary’s dream the night before she is due to marry, and we’re to keep that in mind. We soon realize that these early scenes of their encounters are indeed dreamy — fragmented, episodic, rooted in Mary’s memory as she occasionally narrates an event. We also discover her dream floats in time but it becomes easy to identify when and where we are.
A young romance develops between the awkward farm boy who shows his confidence as a horseman and the smart and refined English transplant girl who falls for Charlie much to her mother’s dismay. It’s a rather naive courtship, written like a folk-art painting might sound, somewhat simplistic and even a little corny. But their romance matures in Mary's dream, and both characters grow up fast with the breakout of The Great War and Canada’s commitment to aid Britain. Once Charlie enlists, the dream shifts back and forth between battlefield and rural farm.
The play sings an ode to young love while simultaneously pitching Charlie into perilous war, and the battle scenes are as fierce as the courting scenes are tender. Drawn headlong into the conflict through Charlie’s letters home to Mary, we dread each battle and his potential demise. The promise of a wedding keeps hope alive; Massicotte’s narrative brilliantly engages both hearts and minds to the very end. No spoilers here — but remember it’s a dream, one that recurs over and over throughout the sad history of humanity.
Coughlin and Pierce are tireless in the demands of the narrative and the staging, never missing a step in transitions, moving hay bales and props with ease to create different locales and scenarios. Coughlin wins us over with his open expression and easy demeanor that believably transforms in the forge of war. Pierce does double duty as Mary and the real-life military leader Gordon Flowerdew, utterly convincing in both roles. The two actors share genuine chemistry and create authentic characters of history who become timeless.
Director Missy Weaver, also billed as a designer, constructs a moving and well-paced fable, creating unforgettable stage pictures. Her guidance in the actors’ clarity of characters speaks volumes for the underlying understanding of the text’s import. Sound design by Matthew E. Jones adds immensely to the ambiance and mood.
Initial sweet naivety gives way to mature thought, and by play’s end, I was completely captivated, surprised at how affected I was by this seemingly inconsequential love story writ large against the backdrop of war. It’s a remarkable performance of a singular script — highly recommended.
by Stephen Massicotte
Presented by Main Stage West
Through February 1, 2020
Thu/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 5:00pm
Tickets $30.00; Student & Senior discounts
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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