CHESTER — Set against the background of World War I, Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte's "Mary's Wedding" is a love story that could go wrong in so many ways. That it doesn't says a great deal about the strength of the production this two-actor-three-character play is receiving at Chester Theatre Company under the direction of Colette Robert.
"Mary's Wedding" — as one of its characters, Charlie, says at the opening — begins at the end and ends at the beginning.
The play starts on a July night in 1920, two years after the end of World War I. It is the night before the wedding of a young woman named Mary (a thoroughly engaging Marielle Young). The world Mary and Charlie inhabit over the course of the play is real. It unfolds as a dream; a dream that plays with time; with planes of reality as the dead come to life in dreams and hopes; in visions of alternate outcomes.
Massicotte's narrative unfolds in a small town Canadian town and tracks the relationship between a young man named Charlie and the engaging Mary from their first chance meeting as they each find sanctuary in a barn from a thunderstorm. Charlie is natural horse whisperer and, as "Mary's Wedding" develops, Mary turns out to be a natural Charlie whisperer. There is between them romantic connection without cloying or salaciousness. But the world beyond beckons Charlie who, as war breaks out in Europe and Canadians are called to service, finds something grand in the notion of charging across the battlefield on horseback. His inspiration is Alfred Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," although Mary is quick to note that things do not end well for the horse soldiers in that epic poem.
Charlie is clear in his feelings for Mary but the call of duty and his admiration for horses overcome. He signs up with Lord Strathcona's Horse Regiment.
His early letters to Mary are filled with buoyancy and wonder at his first-ever encounter with the ocean; anticipation for what lies ahead, longing for what he has left behind. That will change once he and his troop land in England and are then shipped from England to Ypres in Belgium where, instead of horseback, his cavalry unit is ordered to dismount and serve as infantry. They are caught in the mud, muck and human waste of the trenches; trapped by the savage, brutal gunfire and bombardment above, and the gas that spreads over the battlefield and into the trenches.
"You will see her everywhere," Charlie is told by his commanding officer, Flowerdew, during their Atlantic crossing. It is no accident, then, that Flowerdew also is played by Rogers — deeper vocal register and a bit of a swagger but with complete authenticity.
It is a tough, unsentimental course that Mary and Charlie follow as their story embraces sadness and joy; separation and union; dream and reality, often with no distinction between the two.
The playing throughout is insightful and tender; no histrionics or melodrama. Johnson is a credible Charlie — boyish, ingenuous, heroic, vulnerable, intensely human. Young's Mary is richer in dimension and depth. In a play that seeks balance between Mary and Charlie, Mary, for me, at least, is the more interesting of the two, especially as she is portrayed by Young.
In "Mary's Wedding," Massicotte proves there is still life in a good old-fashioned love story that is creatively and imaginatively told.
Jeffrey Borak can be reached at 413-496-6212 or jborak@berkshureeagle,.com