Mary’s Wedding: a retro refuge

The Armory's darling Canadian romance echoes some classics and charms the family crowd

First love. First kiss. First horseback ride. First World War. When everything’s fresh and innocent and new, it seems like it’s all going to work out fine. We can never go back to those times. Or, pretty please, can we?

Portland Center Stage’s Mary’s Wedding—the first full-length play by playwright Stephen Massicotte—is an idealistic retelling of a small-town romance turned long-distance correspondence, reimagined after the fact as a wistful dream punctured by gunfire. Mary (Lexi Lapp) is a prim, gorgeous, feminine English rose who “dreams of flowers and little babies,” and Charlie (Alex J. Gould), though he modestly refers to himself as a “dirty farm boy,” is more like a handsome clean-shaven Canadian Disney prince. They meet at the outskirts of their families’ respective farms while sheltering in a barn during a rainstorm. They notice each other’s loveliness as they share a horse ride home, and they begin a courtship.

The mating game: Lexi Lapp as Mary and Alex J. Gould as Charlie. Photo: Patrick Weishampel/blankeye.tv

This is an easy show to enjoy, but a hard one to review without sounding like a condescending cynic—largely because so many elements within Massicotte’s script invite comparison to pre-existing classics. L.M. Montgomery’s characters (chiefly Anne of Green Gables) recited Tennyson very much like Massicotte’s Mary, right down to their shared favorite title, The Lady of Shalott. Thornton Wilder’s Our Town characters were as small-town innocent and romance-prone as Mary and Charlie. Also, the spirits of Wilder’s dearly departed remained free to reinhabit scenes from their pasts, their afterlife neither hell nor heaven but a liminal state of observing from a vantage point physically near to where they lived and died until they gradually detached from life at their own pace. Massicotte borrows this view, too. One line, “Run, Charlie!” even evokes Forrest Gump, and scenes of war-wounded emit fainter echoes of the same.

But do you love Forrest Gump, Our Town, and Anne of Green Gables? Many or even most people do. That type of lovability also graces Mary’s Wedding, and will no doubt provide a refuge from the tempests of modern complication to those who seek a family show, a simple show, a sweet story, a date night.

What depths and shadows this play provides, the Armory production at least accentuates through brilliant stagecraft.  In the foreground, Mary and Charlie flirt and perch amid a set of felled logs that sometimes sit in for horses. They wield few props (teacups, letters) and Mary wears a white nightgown the entire time. Behind them, however, an immersive and dynamic backdrop sweeps them along and seems poised to swallow them whole. Rather than show us pictures of the pastoral and war landscapes the story straddles, Kwame Braun’s animations lend a blurry ambience with floating flecks which could be anything from snow to dappled light to explosive sparks to flowers in a field to dust in a storm. The fanciful air that swirls around Charlie and Mary is crucial to showing the vastness of their feelings and their fate. “This is bigger than either of you!” the backdrop seems to murmur. Once we understand that Charlie and Mary are being swept along by a storm of fuzzy memories and external events, anything goes.

This is romance. This is innocence. Don’t overthink it, but do appreciate it while it lasts. It won’t stay this way forever.

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Portland Center Stage’s Mary’s Wedding continues through May 28 in the Ellyn Bye Studio at The Armory. Ticket and schedule information here.

 

 

 

 

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