Review: ‘Mary’s Wedding’ in Port Dover elevates the summer theatre season (Hamilton Spectator)

Evelyn Wiebe & Daniel Reale in Lighthouse Festival’s 2024 production of Mary’s Wedding.

Theatre that asks you to believe in dreams fills the stage with wonder at The Lighthouse, writes Gary Smith.

By Gary Smith | Special to the Hamilton Spectator

Saturday, July 6, 2024

If you only see one play this summer, for goodness sake make it Lighthouse Theatre’s ravishing production of Mary’s Wedding.

The Lighthouse in Port Dover is primarily known for its relentless comedies that are mostly laugh-out-loud funny.

Yet, every so often, one of these whiz-bang laugh machines combines laughter with serious thought. Norm Foster’s Halfway There and the heartwarming gay comedy Bed and Breakfast from last season come instantly to mind for the way they do that.

But this year there is something more. When you least expected it, something special has come along.

Daniel Reale and Evelyn Wiebe in Lighthouse Festival’s production of Mary’s Wedding. It’s a richly written, poetic drama that will make you sit bolt upright in your seat, Gary Smith writes. Photo Credit: Don Kearney-Bourque, Lighthouse Festival

Mary’s Wedding, a tender, heartbreaking drama by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte, has just opened to elevate the theatre season.

It’s a richly written, poetic drama that will make you sit bolt upright in your seat. You’ll care for its characters, Mary and Charles, strangers who meet by serendipity one stormy night in a weathered old barn. As the thunder growls outside sheltering walls, and blinding lightning pierces the gloomy darkness, these ingratiating souls long for their lives to intersect in a way that might suggest a welcoming, happy ever after moment.

Evelyn Wiebe & Daniel Reale in Lighthouse Festival’s 2024 production of Mary’s Wedding.

So, why do we sit in our seats for the play’s bracing two acts knowing this is not likely to happen?

Call it intuition.

We soon realize playwright Massicotte is refusing to make the world a welcoming place for such willing young lovers. We follow his wayward path as he allows fate to intervene. The horror of the trenches and the bayonet attacks of the First World War become a cruel, intrusive part of the story.

Massicotte takes us down some frightening paths precisely because he is a playwright who, in the end, writes truth, not fantasy.

Mary’s Wedding is not a linear play where one moment necessarily leads logically to the next. There is poetry at work here. It’s not for nothing that Mary quotes from The Lady of Shalott and Charles relates the rougher, masculine world of Rudyard Kipling’s rallying cries for empire and false heroics.

Much of Massicotte’s play is filled with the exotic world of the great poets. Nothing is truly what it seems. And this playwright has us wandering the labyrinth of the human imagination, lost and fearful as we seek the elusive exit from some frightening maze.

This is theatre that is gripping and passionate. You can’t let your mind wander for an instant. Better pay attention. This one’s filled with the grace notes of a remarkable imagination.

Now, none of this would matter a whiff, if Mary’s Wedding were given anything less than a superlative production. It’s not the sort of play to survive half measures.

Fortunately, it has at its helm in Port Dover a director deeply invested in the play’s rich poetic heartbeat.

Derek Ritschel, who also happens to be the artistic director of the Lighthouse Festival Theatre, has taken a breathtaking risk in scheduling such an elegant and thoughtful play for inclusion in a summer theatre season normally predicated on more pedestrian, lightweight fare.

But it goes deeper than that.

Ritschel has directed this anti-war, love story brooding with fantasy and surreal thought, and given the play’s sometimes dark and demonic themes, a sweet coating of romantic truth. It’s something that resonates in the imagination long after you’ve left the theatre.

Ritschel has wisely liberated the poetic fantasy of this riveting work. More importantly perhaps, he has cannily unleashed from his talented young actors, Daniel Reale and Evelyn Wiebe, performances that reverberate with the wondrous ring of truth.

These are star turns that would not be out of place on a Broadway or West End London stage. Yes, dear friends, they are just that good.

Reale and Wiebe unlock in Massicotte’s exquisite drama such thrilling moments of tenderness, fear and passionate longing that we cling to faint hopes their lives will have some glorious happy ending.

Here is where Massicotte exercises reality. By the time the last lingering shadows of Wendy Lundgren’s painterly lighting have vanished from William Chesney’s stunning, battered barn of a setting, and we have surrendered completely to the fantasy landscape that is the surreal world of Mary’s Wedding, we are wed to hopes of happiness, but will they happen?

Go see Mary’s Wedding.

Go dream the dream. It is after all a play about dreams, desires and passionate longings. This one asks you to travel through time and space and totally suspend disbelief. It’s a remarkable journey to the outer limits of the imagination.

Plays like this don’t come along all that often. And when they are directed and acted with a kind of powerful charisma that leaps right off the stage, well, you need to be there to catch them.

Gary Smith has written about theatre and dance for The Hamilton Spectator, as well as a variety of international publications, for more than 40 years.