Mary’s Wedding – a theatrical success

J. Siedlanowska, B. Pacak-Gamalski, Harrison MacDonald - po spektaklu

At the age of 33, Calgary-based young actor and playwright Stephen Massicott finished his new work, “Mary’s Wedding”. It was his first full size drama prepared for Alberta Theatre Project. It received enthusiastic reviews and subsequently played on many stages in Canada (including a National Arts Centre in Ottawa) and abroad. In 2011 it was even staged as an opera in Victoria under the direction of Michael Shamata. And finally, Wendy Bollard did her own staging of ‘Mary’s Wedding’ in Lower Mainland, in White Rock. Her choice of actors was impeccable. As her instructions to allow themselves to submerge in the actual study of the time, the protagonists times and character.
And so they did.
As I watched, on very austere stage, Julia’s Siedlanowska portrayal of Mary and Harrison MacDonald vision of Charlie, I couldn’t help but be fully enveloped by their tragic story, by it’s believability, it’s pathos. A story of love cut short by the I World War. Story repeated thousands of time in many towns and villages of Europe and North America. Tragic – yes. But also common. For as long as there were wars (and it seems they were as common as peace times, if not more, throughout the course of history of humanity…) there were young lovers, who were first separated by swords and cannons, and ultimately one was killed as the other mourned. Story of romantic love, innocent, yet full of dreams and expectations unfulfilled at the end. How many times it could be told? And how to tell it to offer some sense of originality, importance? In a word: how to make it relevant for contemporary viewer?
Tragic story of two lovers is just about (if not “the one”) the most used subject in literature. Predating Helen of Troy by few thousands years. After all, even the Sumerian ‘Gilgamesh’, the oldest survived written story, is in an essence, a story of tragic love between two friends.
Maybe Massicott asked himself that question, before he sat to write his play? If he did, he gave himself the right answer: do not embellish, do not make it extraordinary, do not look for surreal, ‘out of the world’ experiences and effects. Just tell it as it is. As plainly as possible. Than everyone will understand it, everyone will feel it, will be touched by it. For beauty and true tragedy touches us all. Not in a theatrical (sic!), or too sentimental, or hysterical way.
“Mary’s Wedding” in a way is a monologue. It is Mary telling us her dreams. Or nightmares. After all, we meet her two days prior to her wedding and two years after her lover’s death on the battlefield in Europe. The year is 1920. Charlie therefore, is an apparition. A boy we see and hear through Mary’s memories and dreams. We might be even confused somewhat, as Charlie is the one we see first. Flesh and blood. He actually opens the play almost as a narrator, explaining what we are about to see. His introduction leaves the audience in a strange conundrum: didn’t we think that he dies during the war? And if Mary is now awaiting her wedding, than how is it possible? Surely, she was going to marry him, didn’t she? And since he is telling us now, in a present tense, that she is going to be married and he is flesh and blood (or it seems), than maybe he did survived?! O, why not start in a proper chronological order: they meet young and innocent, fell in love, he goes to war and never comes back, she suffers, is heartbroken? Finally, as time goes by, she is getting married to someone else but never forgets her first love.
But that trick used by the writer and by the director allows us that sense of not knowing absolutely; sense of foreboding, yet slightly lifted by faint hope. It allows us to see Charlie not as a dead war hero listened to with reverence, but as an alive boy, almost young man. It allows us to see him, as we see ourselves. One of us. Or the way we were, when we were his age. It would be impossible to have such a connection with an apparition, no matter how sympathetic.
Mary does not play a role of heartbroken heroine from melodramatic picture. She is ‘matter-of-fact’ storyteller. Yes, she is young and innocent. But also very practical. And worldly. After all she did come from England and must be a little bit more rational than the ‘colonials’ on some homestead farmland in the middle of nowhere! She even allows herself (not notwithstanding the notion of appropriateness of situation, of course!) to slight irony from time to time, to poke innocent fun at her, immature at times, boyfriend. Or her, ah-so-British, mother. But as time goes by, as the news of war reaches her – she knows. And she knows what it means. And what Charlie will do. After all, all boys, all men do it always. They don’t understand it what it means. They just don’t!. It is no use to tell them that, to explain it. The immature and senseless trust in the ridiculous ideas of honor and duty. The romanticism! The call of the ‘charge of a Light Brigade’! She knows that she can’t stop him, can’t change his mind. But she will try, she will attempt. And she will forget at that moment the ‘stiff upper lip’, the manners, she will loose her composure. She will fight knowing that she will loose… . But she couldn’t not to. Just as she will try later, in her dream, to stop him from getting kill. She will know that it is only a dream, that he can not see or hear her. But she will try, by God she will. What else can she do, what else if she loves him and knows that he loves her!? She can’t just let it happen, she can’t … And yet it does happen.
And it happens exactly the same way it did the first time. At the beginning, during that storm. But she did not know it than. And now she does. So no matter how you watch it: from the end, or from the beginning. It always ends the same way. Charlie dies. The telegram arrives to his father. Charlie is not coming back. Mary is practical. Not that she waits for some miracle. She just needed little time, she needed to mourn, couldn’t let go of her dream so quickly. And Charlie will be coming back to her in her dreams. Just a little fainter, just not as often … She knows. And her husband-to-be? He is a good man. He knows too and will understand. Charlie knows it, too.
Julia Siedlanowska as Mary was superb. Her maturity as an actress showed through every phrase, every gesture. Even when she was periodically assuming the role of Sergeant and than officer Flower – Patrick’s commander. Few years ago, I saw her first time on stage during one of plays produced by The Vancouver Polish Theater. I noticed her and remember congratulating the director for a talented, new young actress. In Massicotte’s play Julia showed herself as a wholly grown talent, artistically mature and confident.
Harrison MacDonald played his part the best way it should have been. With full vulnerability, thus attesting to the character’s certain immaturity, boyishness and naivety.
Perhaps it is true that as we age, we become more sentimental. Perhaps. On the other hand, people like me, who have seen many a play, written about quite a few – I should be a bit cynical, cold. Perhaps.
But as time for curtain call came – Ms. Siedlanowska and Mr. MacDonald achieved what should be considered as the ultimate actor’s dream: they have made their story true. I believed them and was moved. Therefore can say without any doubt that director Wendy Bollard made a theatrical success.

About Bogumil P-G

publisher, essayist, poet lived (and born) in Poland, later England, Italy, presently in Canada
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