The Montgomery Theatre has chosen well with Mary's Wedding. It's a humble but worthy rendition of an accomplished play, with two attractive actors – Sean Close as Charlie, Sarah Raimondi as Mary – whisking the audience through a fiction that happened to thousands, a story that snags on a supercharged moment in history.
It's a play with quite a resume. Written in 2002 by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte, it started winning awards straight out of the gate, enjoying a remarkable, steady run of success ever since, racking up more than 100 productions. It's a play ideal for regional theaters, which have embraced it enthusiastically. You can see why: This trim, movie-length two-hander tells a direct, emotional, yet not soppy love story. Its epic tale, thanks to Massicotte's wordcraft (see below) does not require much staging. (If you had the budget, however, you could do it up as big as you wished.)
It's a play of time-shifts. As Mary tells us in a preface, "tonight is just a dream. It begins at the end and it ends at the beginning." She is to be married tomorrow, and tonight she dreams of her previous beau, Charlie, who went to war. All sorts of Shakespearean echoes here, as the actor explains the imaginary conceit that drives the play.
Present, past, and far past connect and interweave. Mary and Charlie meet in a barn during a rainstorm. She's English, recently relocated to this Canadian town. Charlie, "a dirty farmboy," is frightened of thunder and lightning; thunder transforms to World War One bombardments, with Charlie again afraid. Bales of hay around the barn (in a flexible, clever set designed by Meghan Jones) become horses on which Mary rides and Charlie charges.
Mary speaks, and her words become those of Charlie's superior at the front, Sergeant Flowers, tenderly telling Charlie that "you'll see her in everyone." "I already do," the greenhorn soldier replies.
Flowers, by the way, is Gordon Muriel Flowerdew, an actual hero of the war. He has a special care for Charlie, so his voice and Mary's slide easily into each other, although the juxtaposition is often surprising and dislocating.
Mary says she dreams of Charlie, across thousands of miles, listening to her reading a letter from him at the front. Elegantly, easily, time telescopes, compresses, wheels round, all thanks to Marricotte's language. Again, I'm reminded of Shakespeare: Since his stage was almost bereft of setting, his words had to enlist his audience's minds. Massicotte's words make the theater a world, and director Tom Quinn wisely trusts them.
Sean Close imbues serious roles with comic undertones, resonances of Jimmy Stewart and Steve Martin. When Mary's mother expresses horror at the class difference between him and Mary, he arranges to be away, throws himself into farm work. His shaded face as Mary rebukes him later is priceless. Raimondi matches Close, kinetic, determined, a woman-girl. She runs around the stage a lot, expanding our sense of its size and extent. She also speaks in the poetry of unadorned language: Faced with the waste of war, she can say only, "all those arms and voices."
Close and Raimondi are fine at showing us how Charlie and Mary learn together. He learns about love and society (his dislike of tea is a great occasion for the malleable Close face). She learns – extraordinarily quickly – to ride horses. Both learn that fear, of horses, war, or love, can be "scary but good."
Close and Raimondi are again fine as ordinary people facing the titanic forces far beyond them: "Just like it always does, war begins, and I cannot do anything about it." So this tight, short play opens into history. Charlie rides in the battle of Moreuil Wood, an action some have called "the last great cavalry charge," an act of insane bravery that was both a highpoint of equestrian warfare and its finale.
Romance, but adult romance. Love, exhilaration, wonder, and grief, but with a certain decorum. (Again, more credit to Quinn and his actors.) Mary, a new bride, knows that she must embrace forgetfulness of Charlie. She will always remember him, "only now, a little less, and that will be enough." In the imaginary logic of this play, those are Charlie's words, from a very distant sphere, agreeing and endorsing her judicious letting-go. In the face of great feelings, we are not allowed to indulge.
"I promise that, in the end, you will be happy." It's no spoiler that this prediction is borne out, for both Mary and Charlie, nor that this production makes us feel the aching irony of it.