Review

Love and war: Mary's Wedding dreams up a poignant, heartbreaking WW I story

With the end of the First World War observed this month, it's fitting that Theatre Projects Manitoba's new season opens with a play set during and shortly after the Great War. It blurs reality with dream in a poignant and often heartbreaking story of love and war.

Hope of young lovers clashes with reality of 'war to end all wars' in Theatre Projects production

Justin Fry and Sarah Flynn play young lovers in Mary's Wedding, which blurs reality with dream in an affecting story of love and war. (Leif Norman/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

A century on, the First World War is something many of us understand only as a hazy bit of history — a mix, perhaps, of family stories, history and depictions in movies and books.

It seems particularly fitting, then, that Theatre Projects Manitoba's 2018-19 season opens with Mary's Wedding. The play, set during and shortly after the Great War, blurs reality with dream and fact with fiction in a poignant and often heartbreaking story of love and war.

Stephen Massicotte's 2002 play centres on Mary (Sarah Flynn), a young recent immigrant to the Canadian Prairies from England, and Charlie (Justin Fry), a Canadian farm boy.

Not terribly surprisingly, the two soon fall for each other. But when the First World War begins, Charlie — inspired in part by visions from his favourite poem, Tennyson's The Charge of the Light Brigade — joins a Canadian cavalry regiment and leaves to "give the Germans what for."

Playwright Stephen Massicotte twists expectations about war stories (and love stories) by framing Mary and Charlie's tale within a dream. (Leif Norman/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

Stories of the horrors of war, the disillusionment of the soldiers who fight and the pain of the people they leave behind have been told before. 

But Massicotte twists expectations in Mary's Wedding by framing the story within a dream.

"Tomorrow is Mary's wedding," Charlie tells us in a direct address at the beginning of the play, set two years after the war's end. "And tonight is just a dream. I ask you to remember that.… There are sad parts. Don't let that stop you from dreaming it too."

Mary and Charlie's story is told — with the two characters speaking sometimes to the audience, sometimes to each other — in a series of vignettes that flash from one time period and locale to another, with dream and reality twisting around each other. 

Sometimes Charlie — writing a letter home to Mary from the front lines — appears, like a character in a dream, beside her as she reads.

Flynn and Fry both turn in energetic and impressively polished performances. (Leif Norman/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

Charlie's sergeant and confidante, nicknamed "Flowers," is also played by Flynn — giving Mary, in an odd, dreamlike way, a presence in the world of the war Charlie is fighting.

The ultimate effect isn't confusion, though — rather, we're pulled more deeply into Mary and Charlie's story as we hope, perhaps against hope, that their dreams will solidify into reality.

Flynn and Fry, recent graduates from Winnipeg university theatre programs making their professional debuts, both turn in energetic and impressively polished performances (though Flynn's is unfortunately hampered by an unconvincing British accent).

They handle the hairpin turns of the script — going from swooning romance to the terror of a First World War trench — admirably, crafting characters we invest in and care for.

Director Sarah Constible's 75-minute production — which has spent the last few weeks touring communities in Manitoba's Interlake — feels smooth and smartly boils Massicotte's story down to its essence, particularly in its simple but effective design.

Mary's Wedding pares a war unimaginable in its magnitude down to a story that's relatable, but still a moving blend of hope and sadness. (Leif Norman/Theatre Projects Manitoba)

Rebekah Enns's set — built around ladders and sawhorses, trimmed with prairie flowers and stalks of grain — is adaptable and lets the action move swiftly from a Canadian farm to a European battlefield. Adam Parboosingh's lighting and Matthew Waddell's sound design are never overstated — a danger in a dreamlike setting — but are particularly effective in creating the sense of foreboding that hangs over the story.

It is a story that, ultimately, pares "the war to end all wars" — a conflict unthinkable in its magnitude — to something that's relatable and more easily understood but, in its blend of hope and love and sadness, perhaps no easier to accept.

Theatre Projects Manitoba's production of Mary's Wedding runs at the Rachel Browne Theatre until Nov. 18.

About the Author

Joff Schmidt

CBC theatre reviewer

Joff Schmidt is a copy editor for CBC Manitoba. Since 2005, he's also been CBC Manitoba's theatre critic on radio and online. He majored in theatre at the U of M, and performed in many university and Fringe festival productions along the way (ranging from terrible to pretty good, according to the reviews). Find him on Twitter @JoffSchmidt.