by Macey Levin
Charlie Edwards, at the opening of Mary’s Wedding by Stephen Massicotte, tells us that the play isn’t about her wedding, but about the night before the marriage and that she will share her dreams. Indeed, the play, in a beautiful production at the Chester Theatre Company, Chester, Massachusetts, is about both the dreams we have as we sleep and of our aspirations.
Nighttime dreams are seldom realistic; Mary’s (Marielle Young) recurring dream has sudden time and location shifts as she narrates her romance with Charlie (Steven Lee Johnson.) Charlie works on his family farm and she and her mother are recent arrivals from England. Taking place in 1920 in Canada, she transports us back to 1914, the eve of the war to end all wars. They first meet in a barn in the midst of a thunderstorm which terrifies him. She mollifies him by focusing his attention on something from his youth… he returns to his school days and with her assistance he recites The Charge of the Light Brigade. As the storm abates he calms down and their friendship, which leads to romance, begins. A courtship of sorts begins as he tries to fit into Mary and her mother’s world. The mother refers to him as a “dirty farm boy.” Little by little they accept their love for each other. Then the archduke is assassinated. Charlie believes it is his duty to join the cavalry since he is an expert horseman.
This is a romantic story tempered by the ferocity of war. Her dream moves them from their small town to the filth of the trenches to the horrific battles and back home again. They exchange letters which are read aloud attesting to both their love and to vivid descriptions of war scenes. An actual event in the war, the battle of Moreuil Wood involving C Squadron Cavalry under the command of Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, is retold by Charlie in graphic detail. Ms. Young also plays Flowerdew, changing characters in a breath.
The two actors are ideal in their roles defining their personalities and bringing us into their lives. Young’s early wistfulness as she begins the tale of her dreams elicits immediate empathy from the audience. She is coy without being obvious as her meetings with Charlie prompts her love for him to grow, but her anguish and anger at his decision to join the cavalry is painful to her and to the audience. Johnson is handsome but gawky at first when alone with Mary. His fascination with her is understandable and his earnestness is hard to resist. The love between them is palpable. In the scene when Charlie describes the battle, Johnson sheds his farm-boy innocence for a gut-wrenching passion. Their final scene is played so tenderly, the audience was rapt.
Massicotte’s script makes the difficult juxtaposition of locations and changes of time logical as they shift from the dream to the reality. He also develops the characters’ relationship simply without overly dramatic declarations. His choice of images to describe the Battle of Moreuil Wood are unsparing. Throughout the piece, including the war scenes, the language has lyrical qualities that suits the atmosphere of the dreams.
The writer’s transitions are enhanced by the lighting of Lara Dubin whose design differentiates the diverse dreams. The backdrop for several outdoor nighttime scenes is romantically filled with stars and spot lights focus on the actors to heighten their stories. Travis George’s set is made up of several platforms and a creative raw wood construction that serves as Charlie’s horse, a fence and a barricade.
The direction by Colette Robert is subtle allowing the story to unfold simply. Her staging is clean with imaginative stage pictures while the pacing enhances the dream-like elements of the plot.
The Chester Theatre Company, under the artistic direction of Daniel Elihu Kramer, is a gem. Their play selection is always provocative with many new works on the schedule, works that have seldom or never been produced in the Berkshires area. They often use local professional actors – Debra Jo Rupp, Tara Franklin, James Barry, Kim Stauffer and others. The direction, sets, lights, costumes and sound designs are also in the hands of highly experienced theatre personnel. Many people think Chester is too far away to reach, but if you go to Jacob’s Pillow, drive ten more minutes and you’re there. You will be impressed.
A good time to start would be now with this exceptional Mary’s Wedding.
Mary’s Wedding by Stephen Massicotte; Directed by Colette Roberts; Cast: Steven Lee Johnson (Charlie Edwards) Marielle Young (Mary Chalmers); Scene Design: Travis George; Lighting Design: Lara Dubin; Costume Design: Elizabeth Pangburn; Sound Design: David Wiggall; Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission; Chester Theatre Company, Chester, Massachusetts; Opens: July 26, 2018; Closes: August 5, 2018 http://chestertheatre.org