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They just don’t make good instinct like they used to. Most contemporary (read: young) actors trained in the modern theater demonstrate an annoyingly affected air of anticipated uncertainty: the unbroken chain of puzzled looks, quizzical glares, and breathless, mindless response. This isn’t acting, it’s rehearsed and regurgitated technique that is contrived enough to feel “natural. ” This common method du jour represents a bottomless reserve of reactions that are reused, recycled, and then revised on stage — over and over again.
But not at the Theater Alliance.
The troupe’s season opener, Mary’s Wedding, isn’t just a play poised in line to propel the careers of actors Kathleen Coons and Aubrey Deeker, though it will probably do just that. The magic here happens early on as Coons and Deeker let their personalities fade away, melting into a world of love and war, beauty and reality. Suddenly, it’s no longer a piece of theater told exclusively by a couple of actors, but the story of Mary and Charlie. And it is rapturous.
It’s a Friday evening in July, 1920, and Mary is to be wed the next day. But not before she has the chance to reinvent a few spokes in the wheel of her history, courtesy of a collage of dreams and, to her audience’s benefit, reenactments of time and place. “Tonight is just a dream, ” Charlie warns us, “I ask you to remember that. It begins at the end, and ends at the beginning. ” And do it does.
Stephen Massicotte’s tender love story masks itself with details about a young lady who has moved with her family to Canada from England. She’s in love with Tennyson’s poetry and soon with the “dirty stable boy ” she meets in a barn during an evening thunderstorm. Since the plot moves back and forth between past and perceived present, the Canadian playwright uses the opportunity to send Charlie running off to charge in the first World War, advancing Canada’s efforts against the Germans in the historic 1918 Battle of Moreuil Wood.
What Massicotte could not have imagined by placing such authenticity and realistic events in the drama is that the details of his meticulous research are of little significance. His audience is already too involved with the possibilities of what could have been and what will be between Mary and Charlie. The mired, wired trenches of war are not nearly as affecting as the small, still moments shared between his two young lovers. As Charlie steps behind Mary to begin their fateful journey on horseback, we are instantly entranced.
There’s a lot of dancing going on in Mary’s Wedding, both verbally and proverbially. For a powerful convergence of physical symbolism, director Jeremy Skidmore enlisted the talents of Kelly Parsley to choreograph gliding moments of delicate ballet between the two leads. The results are executed with elegant precision.
Deeker and Coons do more than dance together — they guide us through a real love story that isn’t watered down with stylized language or pithy wit. From the moment she appears through a purple haze in her ivory slip gown, Coons is ready to open her heart to us and break it all at once. We are charmed by her schoolgirl confessions while wistfully falling in love with Deeker’s courting farmhand.
What really sets the Theater Alliance apart from other small companies is their commitment to striking visual images and arresting simplicity. Set on a bare stage with a few wooden beams cobbled together by Tony Cisek, Dan Covey accomplishes more through his inspired lighting design than most theaters do with a full-blown, big-budget production. His living hues of blues, greens, pinks and violets carry dense emotional weight in a play that relies heavily on the intangible forces of imagination. The realistic sounds and music from Mark K. Anduss also contribute to the evening’s investment of the senses.
Mary’s Wedding is ultimately a genuine, simple love story with innocent intentions to invoke pure emotional response. And Skidmore’s beautiful production is a misty, romantic interpretation that elicits so much more.