“Journey’s End” meets “Talley’s Folly” in Stephen Massicotte’s romance “Mary’s Wedding,” which uses a dream motif to tell its story of mismatched lovers — set against the backdrop of WWI — while weaving a theatrical spell of hope, regret and memory. For the most part, the show works wonderfully, giving the Canadian scribe’s single-set two-hander a promising forecast for future productions where poignant love stories are welcome.
Dream plays can have a lyrical power, but they can also come across as precious. There’s some of both sensibilities in this beautifully executed production, helmed with respect to the fluidity of the unconscious by Westport a.d. Tazewell Thompson. But when characters and relationships are so lightly drawn, they can lean toward the sentimental.
On the eve of her wedding in 1920, a distressed Mary (Hannah Cabell) dreams of her first meet-cute encounter with true love Charlie (Lee Aaron Rosen) in a thunderous rainstorm years before in rural Canada as both seek shelter in a barn.
She is a newly arrived transplant from England, and her upper-crust mother doesn’t think much of the New World colonists in general, much less of the farmer’s son to whom her daughter has taken a liking. Despite the class divide, Mary is drawn to the handsome and vulnerable young man, an expert horseman who trembles in fear of thunder and lightning. Poetry-loving Mary calms his nerves by having him recite the braveheart call of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (“Theirs not to reason why/Theirs but to do & die”). The storm passes, and Charlie regains his nerve, discovering an attractive companion. Their sensual gallop home seals the deal.
But romantic notions of love, duty and war get tested in short order when WWI breaks out and Charlie volunteers to serve as part of Canada’s celebrated horse brigade. It is clear that poetic writings are quite different from the harsh realities of life.
The dream jumps in and out of time and place: Charlie faces a different kind of boom-flash fear in battle; shifting back, the only obstacle Charlie and Mary face in their budding relationship seems to be a class-conscious mother. Then it’s back to the front again as the dream becomes increasingly fevered.
In a neat conceit that taps into the dreamer’s desperation, Mary also plays the role of Flowers, Charlie’s squadron commander and sympathetic protector, as the battles intensify.
Massicotte has a lovely, lyrical sense, especially in passages describing the drama and details of war. However, his short play comes up even shorter in the details that make up the central relationship, which is sometimes as confounding as it is simple-minded. But thanks to the delicacy of the perfs and direction, the tender-hearted romance still has an affecting, if not bittersweet, conclusion.
Rosen and Cabell make the pair of lovers charming and believable. Rosen, who recalls a young Eric Roberts, strikes the right balance between bravery and vulnerability. Cabell does double duty, principally as the educated and independent Mary, whose ache and happiness are equally palpable, but also as the commander with a heart of his own.
Robert Henderson’s lighting, Donald Eastman’s set and Fabian Obispo’s sound all help create the impressive dreamscape.