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"Mary's Wedding" | Young love in WWI Canada
Special to The Seattle Times
It's easy to understand why Taproot Theatre selected Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte's "Mary's Wedding" as its current production. With a refreshing lack of cynicism, this deeply romantic dream-play goes straight to the heart with timely themes of love and loss during wartime. Present-day parallels are easily applied.
More of a mystery is why Massicotte's play (his first; it premiered in Alberta in 2002) has only moderate emotional impact in Taproot's otherwise admirable staging. The ingredients are there for a first-class tearjerker, yet there were more polite smiles than sniffles after a weekend performance that was more respectable than truly involving.
One's first impulse is to cite the casting: As engaging as they are, Sam Wilson and Jesse Notehelfer lack the requisite chemistry to mine gold from their roles as young lovers near the end of World War I. There's something slightly off-kilter when our emotional response is weaker than the passion between the young Canadian cavalryman Charlie (Wilson) and Mary Chalmers (Notehelfer), a beguiling British immigrant who falls for Charlie as he prepares to depart for the battlefields of France.
Chemistry aside, both actors rise to a considerable challenge with noble efforts. Massicotte's one-act, 90-minute play is richly theatrical and obviously demanding as it ranges from Canadian courtship to battlefield horror; Wilson captures the essence of youthful vitality colliding with wartime reality, and Notehelfer capably tackles her two-role transitions as the lovelorn Mary and Charlie's commander, Sgt. Flowerdew. This is theatrically tricky stuff, with no costume changes involved, and these appealing young actors make most of it work.
They're aided by an economical-yet-ever-shifting scenic-and-sound design by Mark Lund (husband of director Karen Lund) and lighting designer Andrew Duff. "Mary's Wedding" may be anchored in 1920 Canada, on the eve of Mary's wedding to another man, but visually it's an ever-changing dreamscape, with time, place and tonal shifts that unfold with seamless precision. When a lilting piano tune remains almost subliminal through scene changes, we're subtly reminded that all we see and hear is within Mary's mind. Consciousness gives way to free-associative romanticism, and the Lunds and Duff do a remarkable job of drawing us into an impressionist REM-state reverie.
A few moments are awkwardly make-believe (like Charlie and Mary's pantomimed horseback riding), and given the powerful emotions that potentially arise from Massicotte's elliptical structure, it's unfortunate that Taproot's production isn't the three-hankie weeper it's meant to be. But which would you rather have? Seattle stages that play it safe, or companies like Taproot, eager to challenge themselves with plays that are formally challenging (if sentimental), and falling forgivably short of perfection.
Jeff Shannon: email@example.com
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