REVIEW: Mary’s Wedding (Rivendell Theatre)

Even Rivendell can’t save this wedding from mediocrity

 picture by Mark Campbell

Rivendell Theatre presents:

Mary’s Wedding

 

by Stephen Massicotte
directed by
Mark Ulrich 
thru February 20th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

What can be said about a simple and elegant production of a mediocre play? It is like trying to praise the beauty of an exquisitely hand-carved chair that, nevertheless, shows one leg significantly shorter than all the rest. A clunky, fundamental flaw overrides whatever other virtues one could acknowledge about graceful line or sleek finish. So it is with Rivendell’s production of Mary’s Wedding, a one-act dream play about two young Canadians striving to maintain their love affair during the First World War.

photographer: Mark Campbell Stephen Massicotte received Canadian playwriting and literary awards for Mary’s Wedding, recognition that, no doubt, has won its career of productions throughout Canada, the US, and the UK. However, in spite of a sure-handed facility with dramatic structure that blends one character’s storyline with the other—no small talent, to be sure—the play is encumbered by basic shallowness.

First and foremost, the romance between Mary (Cassandra Bissell) and Charles (Shane Kenyon) is the most generic sort. She has recently arrived from England, upper-crustiness intact, and he is a common, horseback-riding, farm boy “colonist”—these stereotypes in the play are as entrenched as anything along the Western Front. What draws these two together remains one of its most underdeveloped features. Sadly, while Bissell and Kenyon’s interactions show freshness and innocence, there is not enough chemistry between them to make up for the text’s deficiencies. Be prepared for tepid barn scenes, “startling” horseback rides, boring tea parties, and a disapproving, upper-crusty mother.

The audience must slog through 30 minutes of that before finally getting on to the war. Once there, creaky exposition comes across more like cliff notes to Canada’s participation in the Great War than any young man’s authentic first person experience. Trenches, lice, poison gas—even “my first kill”—gets ticked off like a laundry list. Throw in Gordan Muriel Flowerdew and the Battle of Moreuil Wood and you’ve got something that will easily serve as a Canadian after-school-special.

Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell
Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell

These are terrible things to say in the face of a cast and crew striving for a balanced, lean, heartfelt, and poetic production. By that, I mean true poetry—not the faux poeticism of repetitions in the text that lose their power to resonate and can, in fact, become as irritating as nails on a blackboard. Mark Ulrich’s directorial choices are, for the most part, clean, spare, and agile, eliciting the play’s dreamlike structure. Shane Kenyon is adeptly profound at portraying Charles’ encroaching war-weariness, while Cassandra Bissell brings the play’s emotional impact home during its final moments. The trouble is in waiting for the play to get there, enduring all its speed bumps along the way.

As a theater company, Rivendell Theatre has moved far beyond works like these. It shows a cohesion and professionalism that has lifted it to a higher level of excellence for small theaters in this city. It can take pride in its achievements and elevate its vision of what it can accomplish in future productions. And it can leave less fulfilling works behind—perhaps even in the dustbin of history.

Rating: ★★½

Scene from Mary’s Wedding on YouTube

5 Responses

  1. I don’t know what play you were watching, but this play was phenomenal. But then maybe I’m more patient to see the characters develop in more than a 30-minute show. I was engaged for the entire 90 minutes. Maybe go see it again without worrying about writing an article to see if you might be more engaged too. And no, I have no relationship with the theater or the theater group or anyone in the theater group.

    • Thank you for responding, Anna. If I did not make it clear before, let me say that Rivendell Theatre Ensemble did its best with this play–everything that it could with direction, performance, even set and special effects–to evoke something direct, simple, honest, and poetic. Unfortunately, for me, in spite of the clearly professional effort put forth at every level, it couldn’t make up for the play’s defects.

      I’ve read other reviews far more forgiving of the material than I am. Of the play’s plot, Chris Jones said, “One could head to the historical-romance section of the local bookstore and find many a pulpy, paperback variation on that theme.” He also remarked, ” . . . it taps into some strikingly intense feelings about love, loss, and recovery. It didn’t have me at hello, but it had me at goodbye.”

      Caitlin Parish called the play “a tearjerker” but she also called the play “slight” and said that its outcome was telegraphed way in advance. She, too, was generous in the final analysis, “But for all the irksomely predictable elements of old-fashioned courtship . . . the tale is genuinely affecting.”

      I say that the direction and acting made the material genuinely affecting and the playwright should be on his knees in gratitude that there are companies out there who will go to the lengths to try and make this work. Call me bored and jaded, but there are few things worse than a soporific war story or a soporific love story and here, you have both mixed together.

      Can I put in one more complaint? This play is the start of a line of plays regarding women in war that Rivendell has planned for its season. When other dramas out there are far more authentic to women’s experience of war, I wonder what was involved to pick a drama as stereotypical and derivative as this one.

      Well, that’s enough from me, for now. Once again: production, good; play, mediocre.

  2. thanks so much, Anna, for visitng our site, and adding your voice to the discussion. For me, one of the best moments of theatre take place after a production is over and I get to talk about it with others – the exchanging of ideas and opinions can be exciting (and at times frustrating if they don’t agree with me!). Thus we welcome dialogue, good and bad, on our site. Part of blogging is the interaction with others on the net, so the more the merrier. Thanks again for reading!

    Scotty Zacher
    Founder/editor, ChicagoTheaterBlog

    • Thanks, Scotty and Paige for your responses. I guess this is one time where just being a theater goer can be an advantage. Maybe because my mind works (dreams or daydreams) in the way that the dream sequences did, I was able to “read” between the characters lines to see/feel what you didn’t. But I’m also a romantic, which probably helps.

      • You are not alone in your response to the play. Many others share your view about how emotionally moving it was. I guess it just wasn’t enough for me.

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