Plays and films set during World War I are few and far between, at least compared to those that use the Second World War or Vietnam as a framing device. It’s been a little over a century since the Armistice, and while there have been a few books and films on the subject – like Sam Mendes’ 1917 – “The Great War” just doesn’t occupy the collective consciousness of the American public; probably because of the half-dozen or so wars that followed “the war to end all wars.”
Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte’s Mary’s Wedding, running now at Sebastopol’s Main Stage West through Feb. 1, deals with the romanticism and realities of war as experienced by two young residents of Alberta, Canada – Charlie Edwards (Sam Coughlin) and Mary Chalmers (Sharia Pierce).
Charlie enters the theatre and informs the audience that it’s 1920 and tomorrow is Mary’s wedding. What we will be seeing is the dream Mary has the night before her betrothal. We see how the two met and their awkward courtship. We hear how Mary’s upper crust British mother disapproves of her relationship with a “colonial”. We learn that Charlie will soon be off to war.
Mary’s dream floats between their time together and their time apart. Charlie’s letters home to Mary come to life as the realities of the horrors of trench warfare and mustard gas overtake the perceptions of glory and honor that accompany battle. Charlie, whose only remembrance of literature learned at school is Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade, soon finds himself riding into the Valley of Death.
Part memory play, part fantasy, and part Ken Burns PBS documentary-influenced historical drama, Mary’s Wedding is an incredibly effective piece of theatre. Director Missy Weaver’s deft handling of Massicotte’s script manages to make the multiple transitions of time and space feel seamless. This is due in no small part to the performances of Coughlin and Pierce. Working with not much more than a few hay bales, a saw horse, a helmet, and an umbrella, the actors make you see them astride a horse, or on a ship, or deep in a trench.
The wedding gown-draped Pierce also plays Charlie’s commanding officer, which as strange as it sounds, actually works quite well for reasons that are made clear in the play.
Can the totality of the cost of war be absorbed by a single individual? Mary’s Wedding reminds us that, sadly, for millions the answer is “yes”.
‘Mary’s Wedding’ runs through February 1 at Main Stage West in Sebastopol. Thursday through Saturday evening performances are at 8pm; the Sunday matinee is at 5pm.
For more information, go to mainstagewest.com