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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Steven Lee Johnson as Charlie Edwards tells us , "Tonight is just a dream… it begins at the end and ends at the beginning."
A chance meeting between two charming, youthful idealists flames into attraction when they are caught in a barn during an electrical storm. It is 1914 and Mary (Marielle Young) is a newly arrived British immigrant to the Canadian prairies. Charlie, "a colonial," terrified of the violent thunder and lightning storm, counts between the strikes. She helps him cope by reciting Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade," a familiar, comforting poem from his school days. It is a prescient choice for what is to come. This is the beginning of first love for the perky girl who dreams of "flowers and little babies" and an awkward youth who thinks of himself as a "dirty farm boy."
This non-linear 90 minutes of flashbacks, memories and dreams relies, like Thornton Wilder's Our Town, on the audience's willing suspension of disbelief. The acting and production are so seamless that the ride through time is enchanting though it tells a wistful tale of separation and loss.
The small town romance represents the heartbreak of millions of couples whose dreams were destroyed by the devastation of such a massive atrocity as World War I, where native sons marched proudly off to slaughter. It is believed that over 60,000 Canadian soldiers (out of ten million combatant dead) perished.
The couple are captivating in their naivete and sweetness. They secretly decide that each other is "the one" despite her middle class mother's disapproval of a mere "colonial. Mary knows her own mind. Marielle Young as Mary is open and natural; her every gesture and facial expression exposes an innocent girl's honesty.
With a quick voice change and body movement helped by lighting, Young takes on the role of Sergeant Flowers, Charlie's friend and mentor on the front. Flowers was an historic figure and this lends a note of truthfulness to the story. Mary's imagination conjures up the soldiers' lives through Charlie's letters and second hand news of the war's devastation; these scenes flesh out what the men are truly experiencing as well as revealing Charlie's inner turmoil.
Though the story is predictable, the actions of the two actors make it feel fresh and exciting. Steven Lee Johnson's Charlie is so achingly awkward that we empathize with his shy flirtation; under Mary's encouragement he grows to become a worthy suitor. Johnson's role requires him to evolve from gawky farm boy to a battle-hardened soldier facing sniper fire and mortars. The boy who hid from the thunder now faces terror that he cannot count away.
Colette Robert's subtle direction and pacing create a space where everything is possible in a dream state where Mary revisits the past on the night before her wedding in 1920.
The pleasantly uncomplicated set by Travis George of raised platforms, farm-fencing and burlap bags moves the action from barn to battlefield with a change of lighting and dialogue. The fence rails double as horses, trenches or farm fields. A gauzy curtain is sometimes backlit by stars as the two actors gaze up at the vast prairie or wander on foreign fields in a world lit by war. This adds to the dream-like quality of their lives.
The imaginative set is complemented by Laura Dubin's magical lighting along with special effects. Combined with David Wiggall's sound design and Elizabeth Pangburn's simple, yet authentic clothing, the creative team conjures up the atmosphere required to support the transitions of each character's life.
The chemistry between these two actors as they recreate the hopes and fates of the lovers is palpable and will resonate long after this small but powerful drama leaves Chester Theater Company.
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Mary's Wedding by Stephen Massicotte
Directed by Colette Robert
Cast: Steven Lee Johnson (Charlie Edwards) Marielle Young (Mary Chalmers)
Scenic Design: Travis George
Costume Design: Elizabeth Pangburn
Lighting Design: Lara Dubin
Sound Design: David Wiggall
Stage Manager: Katy McGlaughlin
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Chester Theatre Company, Chester, MA
Opening: 7/26/2018; Closing: 8/5/2018
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at July 29, 2018 performance
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