Plays on several local stages this month are smart and edgy, but not everyone wants to be provoked. Sometimes a sweet, entertaining story is what we want. That's what Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati (ETC) offers with the regional premiere of Mary's Wedding by Canadian writer Stephen Massicotte, running through Feb. 24.
Before I say more about the play, I should describe the challenge ETC faces by its definition as a "premiere" theater. ETC seeks out new works, seldom relying on established hits. Most productions are scripts brand new to Cincinnati audiences.
ETC's D. Lynn Meyers has an uncanny ability to pick plays her audiences will love, even when they haven't heard of them. Such was the case with last year's engaging String of Pearls by Michele Lowe. (Meyers offers her subscribers a guaranteed refund if they don't like the shows she chooses. More than half of them renew before the plays are announced.)
She opened the current season with David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole, the winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize and a write-up in The Best Plays of 2005-2006. New York audiences liked it, and Meyers worked hard to get the rights to present one of the first regional productions of the somber drama about a family reeling from the accidental death of a child. A Pulitzer is a good indicator that a play is worth seeing. But what about Mary's Wedding, which comes with no such credential?
Here's the story: The wedding of Mary and Charlie, an event that began when the two sought shelter in a barn in Canada during a thunderstorm, has been disrupted by his decision to go to war in 1914. The memories of their love are recalled through letters they exchange during a long-distance courtship -- he on the battlefields of France, she back home in rural Canada.
"In a season dedicated to next stages," Meyers says, "I wanted to look at the powerful influence that war has on our lives. Although our involvement in the war in Iraq takes place thousands of miles away, its impact certainly has great personal resonance with each of us here at home." Mary's Wedding, she believes, shows that "whether we believe in the war or not, it affects millions of people's lives every day in profound and irreversible ways, just as it did nearly 100 years ago."
Describing Mary's Wedding as a "dream play," she says it "dares to use poetry as a weapon and finds the passion in our human nature colliding with our call to become fully ourselves." Meyers excels at bringing out the heart and soul of such plays when she directs them, and I suspect audiences will be moved by this work, even though they had not heard of it a year ago. Meyers has earned her subscribers' trust. This production could be another demonstration that she deserves it.
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