Poignant performances by recent college graduates Caitlin Davis (the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, 2011) and Matthew Hager (UNC-Chapel Hill, 2011), under the sure-handed direction of freelance director Joshua Benjamin of Mebane, NC, make the current Burning Coal Theatre Company production of the bittersweet romance Mary’s Wedding by Canadian dramatist Stephen Massicotte truly an affair to remember. Burning Coal’s Southeastern premiere of Mary’s Wedding, presented as part of small Raleigh professional theater company’s “Wait Til You See This!” series, may be staged with a shoestring budget, but thanks to its imaginative and resourceful director and designers and its extraordinarily expressive stars, this second-stage show pays huge dramatic dividends.
Matthew Hager plays a still wet-behind-the-ears Canadian farm boy named Charlie; and Caitlin Davis portrays the comparably more sophisticated title character and seemingly impossible object of Charlie’s affections, a recently arrived immigrant girl from England, whose snobbish mother sees only a provincial boy with mud on his face, a big disgrace, and does everything within her power to thwart the burgeoning romance that is, in any case, interrupted by the outbreak of World War I and Charlie’s enlistment in the Canadian cavalry.
Mary’s Wedding begins at the end, in the summer of 1920, on the sultry night before Mary’s nuptial day, and goes back and forth between 1920 and the first meeting of Charlie and Mary in horse barn during a rainstorm, shortly before the War to End All Wars commenced in August of 1914. It is a “dream play” and a “memory play,” like Tennessee Williams’ “Glass Menagerie”; and dream logic rules the days and the nights of Charlie’s shy courtship of Mary, their explosive breakup after Mary learns of Charlie’s enlistment, and a series of increasingly harrowing letters home that Charlie writes as he slogs through the muddy and gore-spattered battlefields in France.
Mary cannot understand why Charlie is so eager to charge through the Gates of Hell; and Charlie soon finds that all notions of glory, fighting for King and Country, are moonshine and devotes all his energies to the tricky business of staying alive in one of the most hostile landscapes on Earth.
Tall and lanky, Matthew Hager perfectly captures Charlie’s gawky coltish qualities; and Caitlin Davis gives a star-making dual performance as the heartbroken Girl He Left Behind and crusty sergeant (later lieutenant) Flowers, who protects Charlie as best he can, for as long as he is able.
Director Joshua Benjamin not only helps Caitlin Davis and Matthew Hager fully explore their characters and make them fully three-dimensional, but he uses Mary and Charlie’s dreamlike travels back and forth through time to heighten the tragedy of a wartime romance that may not survive the killing fields of France.
Ironically, Mary’s Wedding arrives in the Burning Coal Theatre at the same time that the heart-tugging motion-picture version of Michael Morpurgo’s young-adult novel War Horse, directed by Steven Spielberg, is gracing screens at the local multiplex. War Horse may more graphically portray the nightmarish battlefield conditions that can only be suggested onstage. But Mary’s Wedding, in its own special way, puts a human face on the tragedy of that senseless conflagration that decimated a whole generation British, American, and German youth. Don’t miss it.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 18th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/saying-goodbye-to-all-that-in-marys-wedding/Content?oid=2743648; and Jan. 13th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Spencer Powell: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5293. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 15th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/01/in-stephen-massicottes-dream-play-marys-wedding-world-war-i-separates-two-lovers/.)
Burning Coal Theatre Company presents MARY’S WEDDING at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 21 and 2 p.m. Jan. 22 in Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.
BOX OFFICE: 919/538-1742, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.etix.com/.
The Play: http://www.canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Mary’s Wedding (Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia).
The Playwright: http://www.canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Massicotte, Stephen (Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Massicotte (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.