FEBRUARY 2022 | Volume 212
Tanner Zerr-Sarah Roa. Photo credit Jon Benjamin.
Seeing Mary’s Wedding this week, I found it impossible not to think about Ukraine. Stephen Massicotte’s twenty-year-old two-hander, a Canadian classic, is set during and just after World War One. Although a dream play, it conjures the real-life tragedies of all wars: the young people maimed, killed, and driven mad by the violence (what we now call PTSD); and the wounds, just as dire, suffered on the home front. These young people could as easily be Ukrainian or Russian.
The characters in the play are small-town Canadians: Mary (Sarah Roa), whose family has recently emigrated to Ontario from Britain, and Charlie (Tanner Zerr), a “dirty farm boy” in Mary’s mother’s eyes. (The Firehall’s Donna Spencer directs two casts: Emma Ross and Jacob Leonard alternate as Mary and Charlie.)
Mary and Charlie are innocents, and their sweet budding romance is juxtaposed with the growing horror of the war as the play shifts back and forth between scenes of their courtship at home and scenes from the front where Charlie, sometime cavalryman, sometime infantryman, becomes a hardened soldier. At the front, Mary takes on the role of Sgt. Flowerdew (historically a real character), Charlie’s superior and confidant. The romance scenes are dreamt by Mary, and maybe the war scenes, too, are part of the characters’ dreams, although in the form of nightmare.
Mary, dressed in a nightgown, has the bulk of the narrative, trying to keep Charlie and their love alive in her dream, and Roa, though physically small, radiates great strength and joy. Zerr’s Charlie is a big, gentle man whose memories of Mary, like a totem, keep him from becoming bitter and sour in the midst of the war’s terrors. She has taught him not to be afraid of thunder, echoed in the shelling of the war. Riley Hardwick’s effective sound design threatens, at moments, to overwhelm the narrative.
A couple of Tennyson poems, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and “The Lady of Shalott,” bring additional resonances to the play. Charlie’s cavalry will make a suicidal charge against the German line, while Mary waits at home alone, tragic but resolved. The playwriting is rich and complex. And the production is lovely.Kudos to designer Lauchlin Johnston for the beautiful painted cloth backdrop and floor, and the clever set of wooden pieces comprising rural fencing and the horses that Charlie teaches Mary to ride.
For all its attempts to find joy and consolation in love and memory and dreams, Mary’s Wedding is painfully sad. Like the war we’re watching now.
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