I think that there is a change in our values today; most wars are abhorred although we continue to fight them as though we have learnt nothing from our history.
by Gabrielle Soskin
I came across Stephen Massicotte’s award winning play, Mary’s Wedding in 2003, quite soon after it had been first produced. I thought it was a wonderful play and I wasn’t surprised that it had been so well received all over Canada and North America. I tried several times to secure the performing rights for Persephone without success. Tenacity however won the day, and recently I heard from Stephen Massicotte himself that it was a go.
The play is passionate and sensitive love story set against the events of the First World War. It unfolds before us as a dream. Throughout the dream we travel through time and a variety of locations, so whatever scenic elements we create we have to focus on the changes and transitions from place to place.
A young girl, Mary, has arrived from England with her parents to “the wild colonies of Canada”.
Yet despite the dark backdrop, the play itself is full of humour and there is a delightfully playful quality in the relationship between Mary and Charlie.
Mary falls passionately in love with a farm boy called Charlie. Their relationship is revealed through Mary’s dream as she looks back to her first meeting with Charlie, and all that happens afterwards. Massicotte has drawn the character of Mary, a middle class British girl of that period, beautifully. Her character every so often merges into another, Sergeant Flowerdew, Charlie’s Sergeant Major (based on a real life character that Massicotte discovered in a journal about the Canadian Cavalry at the time). This device strengthens the idea that Mary is always in Charlie’s thoughts as he faces the terrors of warfare. Charlie comes from a completely different class and background and is a sensitive illustration of a young man from rural Canada full of naive ideology. He longs to ride his horse as part of the Canadian cavalry, and do his bit for the war effort, while being completely unaware of the terrible events that await him. Yet despite the dark backdrop, the play itself is full of humour and there is a delightfully playful quality in the relationship between Mary and Charlie.
Woven into the fabric of the play are two very famous poems by Lord Alfred Tennyson, chosen purposely I assume by Massicotte to illustrate the tragedy of a futile loss of life. The Charge of the Light Brigade, is a poem that reflects the blind stupidity and misguided heroism of the British cavalry in the Crimean War, and The Lady of Shallot, is a poem about a Victorian ideal of thwarted love, a lost love, that we would today surely perceive as a tragic waste.
“What would all those families have said if they felt that their sons, brothers, fiancées, husbands and fathers had died for nothing?" my mother commented.
I have to admit that I have an affinity with the First World War, and I have a sense of the tragic waste of lives and a deep compassion for the lost generation of men that were so cruelly sacrificed. I know the period well, and much of the drama and literature that came from it. I have studied the war poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon especially. I love the play Not about Heroes by Stephen Macdonald, which was done at the Centaur many years ago. It documents the profound friendship between these two poets and the harsh reality of warfare that they had witnessed at the front. In the 50’s Joan Littlewood, of London’s East End, produced Oh What a lovely War, a satirical musical in the style of vaudeville about the War, which was recently revived by Soulpepper in Toronto. John Gray’s brilliant play Billy Bishop goes to War is now part of the Segal’s 2011 season.
I took my mother to see it when it was originally performed in Montreal many years ago. She was bewildered by it. “What would all those families have said if they felt that their sons, brothers, fiancées, husbands and fathers had died for nothing?" she commented afterwards. When I talk to young actors I have to explain that in my Mother’s generation war was necessary evil and that dying on the battlefield was an honourable death; after all, the white feather was handed to conscientious objectors who had to go to court to defend their sensibilities. I think that there is a change in our values today; most wars are abhorred although we continue to fight them as though we have learnt nothing from our history. I have also read several novels from the 1914-18 era, including Timothy Findley’s deeply disturbing The Wars and Joe Boyden’s equally powerful Three Day Road.
So it is hardly surprising that Persephone has produced three war plays. The first, To the Green Fields Beyond by Nick Whitby was about the Tank Corps. (It was winner of best ensemble, MECCA 2007.) The second was the Governor General Award winning play Unity 1918, by Kevin Kerr (MECCA nomination for best production and ensemble 2008) and most recently, Shakespeare’s magnificent debate about the nature of war in Henry V. And now Mary’s Wedding. Will it be the last of a cycle? or will I be tempted by John Murrell’s wonderful well known play Waiting for The Parade which is actually set in World War 2.
In keeping with the company mandate we have assembled an enthusiastic team of emerging Montreal professional artists.
In keeping with the company mandate we have assembled an enthusiastic team of emerging Montreal professional artists. Alisson Busner, a recent graduate of the Dawson theatre program, will play Mary. Dustin Ruck, (Fluellen in Henry V and a tried and true Persephone alumni), will play Charlie.
Gloria Capano a graduate of John Abbott is Stage Manager. Gordon Allen, currently in Banff studying sound for film, will be creating the Soundscape. Ariel Loraine and Lorne Reitzenstein who are students in the theatre design department at Concordia will be tackling set and lighting respectively. Melanie Michaud, costume designer for Be My Baby (2009) will be back to design the costumes.
Persephone, forever wandering in search of theatre, is very excited to be producing Mary’s Wedding at a new Venue for the Company, the Jean Valacourt theatre at the Conservatoire de Musique et D’art Dramatique, 4750 Henri Julien. Metro Mount Royal. It is an excellent theatre for this piece. We have made a special price for students and QDF members for all the shows at 12$, so I hope those of you in that category will take full advantage, while adults at general admission 25$ and groups of ten or more 20$ will also join us and in this way, a wide audience will help to support and encourage a Company that has bravely sustained a ten year track record and continues to produce a diverse and challenging repertoire of Theatre, including Canadian plays!
To make your reservation call 514 790 1245 or go down to the theatre Box office Tuesday through Friday 1pm to 530pm