Acting, script save war story

"Is this going to be any good?" asks the woman sitting on my left.

However rude the comment may be, perhaps we should let an opening night at playRites ’02 speak for itself. I indulge her with an: "I sure hope so."

How can I not hope for the best from playwright Stephen Massicotte and his first full-length dramatic piece Mary’s Wedding? The former University of Calgary student is one of Calgary’s own, plus he undertook the challenge of dramatizing a love story amidst a WWI dreamscape.

Dreams? Love? War? Premature judgmental visions of Kevin Sullivan-produced CBC mini-series dance in my head.

From the anticipation I glean from the women around me, I am seriously considering text-messaging my buddies to warn them of an impending chick-flick. Thank goodness, Massicotte was about to prove me wrong.

Mary’s Wedding is a beautifully written story of Mary’s (Sarah M. Smith) dreams the night before her 1920 wedding. Massicotte slowly draws the audience into her visions of reality and fantasy-real life and poetry. There we see capable, right-off-the-boat-from-England Mary as she meets vulnerable, home-grown-Alberta-boy Charlie (Collin Doyle). A love affair ensues that is cut short by the war.

Nonetheless the story still moves seamlessly from an old barn in the prairies to a bombed-out shack in France, from a grassy hillside to a trench, from humour to sadness or from the joy of living to the fear of death. Kudos to the cast for leading their audience so simply through these places, times and emotions, and kudos to Massicotte for his skill in writing a powerful show that meshes a love story into the theatre of war. He creates a humourous and realistic tale of love while painting a sickeningly romantic, yet grizzly portrait of war through the eyes of a letter-reading woman on the home front.

Wonderfully subtle lighting and staging lets actors take the audience around the dream world in such a way the audience often forgets it’s in a dream. Smith plays Mary with the passion and strength required and removes the potential for Mary to become the whiny and annoying Englishwoman slighted by the Great War. In fact, both actors let the truth and beauty of their characters shine with honest performances that can disarm many an audience member. A single criticism of Doyle is his oft-used staccato delivery, reminiscent of Charles Yale Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed, that sometimes verges on irritating.

At the end of it all, amid the well-earned applause and smattering
of standing ovation, I am relieved
to realize that I did not need to worry about Massicotte’s Mary’s Wedding one bit. As a main stage event at playRites ’02, this show
is definitely worthy of soon-to-come praise. It appeals to many people on as many levels and is sure to entertain even the rudest prejudgmental skeptic.

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