In Canadian actor, playwright, and screenwriter Stephen Massicotte’s haunting 2002 two-character “dream play,” Mary’s Wedding, the advent of World War I (1914-18), and the upsurge of patriotic fervor, separates two star-crossed lovers: a Canadian farm boy and the girl that he leaves behind when he marches off to fight in a conflict that was foolishly dubbed the “War to End All Wars” but ended up sewing the seeds for the grapes of wrath that erupted into World War II just two decades later. The upcoming PlayMakers Repertory Company production of Mary’s Wedding, which will run April 29-May 3 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art, will star Myles Bullock as Charlie and Carey Cox as Mary.
“… [Mary’s Wedding] was going to be a war play [about the War to End All Wars],” wrote dramatist Stephen Massicotte in his notes for the play’s world-premiere production at the 2002 ATP playRites Festival, staged by Alberta Theatre Projects. “However, I was in love when I wrote it and I thought it was more of a love to end all loves. This is not that love story but the more I loved her, the more Mary and Charlie loved each other. The more I longed to return to her, the more they longed to return to each other. So the war play became a love story. I wrote it to forget her and to get her back and to remember her and to let her go.”
“I first came to love … Mary’s Wedding … when I had the good fortune to be cast as Charlie in [its] U.S. premiere at San Jose Repertory Theatre in the fall of 2003,” says PlayMakers Rep guest director Cody Nickell, who is staging the show for the UNC professional-theater-in-residence’s PRC2 second-stage series. (PRC2 presents timely topical plays, followed by post-show discussions with the show’s cast and crew and various subject-matter experts, who will include professors John McGowan and Christopher M. Armitage of the UNC Department of English and Comparative Literature.)
Nickell, who is an artistic associate at Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, FL, adds, “The structure and style of Mr. Massicotte’s play demands that the creative team use an incredible amount of imagination to bring the play to life. This is no ‘kitchen-sink drama.’ This play proudly owns its theatricality, and I love working on plays like this. How do you bring to life a horse for a cavalry charge when there is no horse? How do you show a moonlit battle between trenches on the front lines of World War I with only two actors? And maybe most interesting, for all its theatricality, how do you show the simple story at the heart of this play about two young people falling in love?
“Having experienced this play as an actor,” Nickell says, “I know how exciting and freeing it can be as a performer to help to answer these questions. To be able to revisit this piece, this time from a director’s standpoint, where I will be guiding all the elements that go into the creation of the whole, is a blessing that I am very grateful for.”
Cody Nickell says, “At the beginning of Mary’s Wedding, Charlie comes out and addresses the audience directly, telling them:
Hello, out there. Thank you for coming. Before we begin there is something I have to tell you.
Tonight is the night before Mary’s wedding. It’s a July wedding on a Saturday morning in nineteen hundred and twenty; two years after the end of the Great War, or as you might know it now, the First World War.
So, tomorrow is Mary’s wedding, tonight is just a dream. I ask you to remember that. It begins at the end and ends at the beginning. There are sad parts.
Don’t let that stop you from dreaming it too.
“So, with the introduction of the theatrical device of the ‘dream play,’ Mr. Massicotte lets us know right away that the rules for time, setting, and even character, all can be broken within this dream,” explains Nickell. “But Mary’s Wedding is a very simple story at its core. It is a story about young love and the World War that comes between two people.
“Charlie (Myles Bullock) and Mary (Carey Cox), two young Canadians, meet in a barn while sheltering from a thunderstorm,” says Cody Nickell. “This intimate and vulnerable setting exposes endearing strengths and weaknesses of both characters, and almost immediately these two people begin falling in love. The audience follows them through this dream, seeing their memories of courtship, the outbreak of war, the separation, the chronicling of Charlie’s experience in the cavalry through letters written, and finally the beautiful and moving conclusion to the dream.”
Staging Mary’s Wedding, which is being produced as part of the UNC Institute for the Arts and Humanities’ year-long 2014-15 World War I Centenary Project, presents considerable challenges to the PlayMakers Repertory Company cast and creative team; but Nickell says, “I would prefer to think of the challenges as gifts, but there is no shortage of those gifts in attempting to stage Mary’s Wedding. We travel from the plains of Canada to Europe, crossing on boats across the Atlantic. We witness cavalry charges, trench warfare, tea parties, first horse rides that inspire love to take wing; an entire world is created by only two actors standing on a very simple set.
“… [T]his requires on the part of the creative team, and the challenge (and still I would say gift) to bring the audience along with us to all those places, to have them feel all the terror and hope that Mary and Charlie are feeling, excites me to no end,” confesses Cody Nickell. “That is what theater can do better than film. Sure, in a film, you just show all those things to an audience. But with this play, this creative team has wholeheartedly accepted the challenge to create an engaging and fully realized world, where the audience has to use their imaginations. This engagement of audience imagination makes the experience active for them, not passive; they become witnesses, not just observers.”
In addition to director Cody Nickell, who is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, and has previously performed in PlayMakers‘ productions of Playboy of the Western World and The Making of a King: Henry IV & V, the PlayMakers Rep creative team for Mary’s Wedding includes PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Daniel Conway, costume designer Jade Bettin, lighting designer Jeff Adelberg, sound designer Robert Dagit, vocal coach John Patrick, movement coordinator Craig Turner, dramaturg Karen O’Brien, stage manager Sarah Smiley, and assistant stage manager Charles K. Bayang.
“When I was first thinking about the set for this production,” says director Cody Nickell, “the main thoughts I had were that it should be created from things that are alive or were once alive, and that it ground us in one place that the dream revisits several times. When [scenic designer] Daniel Conway was brought on, a designer I have worked with several times as an actor, and with whom I’m thrilled to collaborate on this, we discussed these ideas and Dan has created a beautiful space.”
“Grounded in the idea of a barn, the place where Charlie and Mary first meet, but flexible enough to become several spaces, the set of mostly wood and grass can evoke both the plains of Canada and the battlefields of Europe,” says Nickell. “With a gorgeous circular frame that acts as a portal into the whole set, Dan has created a world that the audience will literally look into, one that will help them experience the feeling of looking into someone’s dream.”
He adds, “The lighting in this play will be such an important element, and [lighting designer] Jeff Adelberg and I have had discussions about the impact that it can have. Given the dreamscape that this play occurs in, lighting will be one of the creative team’s greatest tools to subtly and dramatically change mood, time, space and pacing.
“With the many lovely surfaces Dan Conway has given Jeff to work with, we will be able to really influence the audience’s perception of the physical space,” says Cody Nickell. “One of the ideas we had very early in the process was the idea of creating skyscapes. Using the rear of the set as a place to create beautiful and haunting representations of the various types of skies that present themselves through the course of the play will be of great benefit to the production as a whole.”
He notes, “In some ways, the costuming for the show is very straightforward. With just two actors, and a very specific time period, there were less wide-ranging design ideas that we dealt with in our early talks. There were a few questions [costume designer] Jade Bettin and I tackled right away, but then the general idea of what the costumes wanted to be emerged very quickly. However, once that general idea emerged, Jade took it and ran with it.
“The beautiful and evocative research images she has been providing have really piqued my imagination, and not just for costumes, but for the production in general,” says Cody Nickell. ” The detail work she has been putting into the designs is quite spectacular and will ultimately pay great dividends in the physical production.”
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents MARY’S WEDDING at 7:30 p.m. April 29-May 2 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. May 3 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up ($10 UNC students and $12 other college students), with discounts for UNC faculty and staff and U.S. military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/single.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
UNC NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2015/04/06/playmakers-presents-regional-premiere-of-marys-wedding/.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE: After each performance, there will be a post-show discussion with members of the cast and creative team and subject-matter experts.
Mary’s Wedding (2002 dream play): http://www.canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Mary%27s%20Wedding (Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia) and http://www.playwrightscanada.com/index.php/marys-wedding.html (Playwrights Canada Press Ltd.).
Stephen Massicotte (Canadian playwright and screenwriter): http://www.canadiantheatre.com/dict.pl?term=Massicotte,%20Stephen (Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia), http://www.playwrightscanada.com/index.php/stephen-massicotte.html (Playwrights Canada Press Ltd. bio), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1351157/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Massicotte (Wikipedia).
Cody Nickell (director): http://www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org/about/CodyNickell.asp (Gulfshore Playhouse bio), http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/artist.aspx?id=e1fe0f8e-fdcd-48eb-89ba-080dd30aaea4 (PlayMakers Repertory Company bio), and https://www.facebook.com/cody.nickell.12 (Facebook page).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)