by Lynn on September 3, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

Written by Stephen Massiocotte
Directed by Gil Garratt
Set and Costumes by Kenneth MacKenzie
Lighting by Rebecca Picherak
Sound by Lyon Smith
Cast: Eli Ham
Sophie Walker

A bitter-sweet ache of a play about love and moving on.

The Story. This is a play about dreaming, believing and imagining. Charlie is a shy Canadian farm boy in his teens who is afraid of rain storms with thunder and lightening. He is hiding in a barn during a terrible storm, counting out the seconds between the flash of lighting and the thunder that follows. He meets Mary, also a teen, in the barn too—she’s trying to get out of the storm. Mary was originally from England but came to Canada with her family.

From that first encounter Charlie is smitten. So is Mary. He takes her home on his horse. She loves the thrill of sitting behind Charlie on his horse as they race to her house. They meet by accident in town when she picks up the mail for the family. Charlie then plans to frequently meet her by accident in town.

Mary’s mother is planning a tea for the community. Mary invites Charlie. He feels awkward. Mary’s mother is no help in making him feel comfortable. She thinks he’s a bumpkin and her daughter deserves better. Mary calms him and lets him know that if she has anything to do with it, he will be included.

The first World War looms and Charlie, like many of his friends, signs up to do his part for his country. He writes Mary and she writes him, but he writes more. They of course fall in love. But then something happens.

The Production. In Kenneth MacKenzie’s simple set there is a barn stage right that when the door opens will reveal the inside of the barn with an unseen horse and at another time will be the inside of an elegant house (the chandelier does it) with a tea cart ready to dispense tea. Up from that is a wood fence and below that are bags of sand crammed into crevices that suggest the war and areas of fighting. Two places are created at the same time with this suggestive set. To the far left are the outlines of a saddle and a makeshift horse’s head. This is the horse that Charlie and Mary ride on their first meeting. Simple evocative, clear.

At the beginning of the play Charlie, in a WWI soldier’s uniform, sits at the lip of the stage and asks us to dream because what we are to see is a dream. It’s the day before Mary’s wedding. She tells us that the play begins at the end and ends at the beginning. And that becomes clear too. The play shifts back and forth in time; from the dream (memory?) to the reality. We see the first awkward, innocent steps of Charlie and Mary meeting, being charming with the other and falling in love. They both mature over time and their connection deepens. And the war certainly is a sobering jolt of reality. Mary reads his letter avidly not realizing the true horrors Charlie is experiencing. Charlie’s commanding officer tells him to write the truth to Mary of what he (Charlie) is experiencing. And he does, and it’s heart-squeezing. Then Charlie takes us back to the day before Mary’s wedding.

Stephen Massicotte has written a bitter-sweet ache of a play about two people who fall in love regardless of the different worlds they come from. The dialogue is poetic, halting, sweet, and tremendously moving. And there is regret that will have you searching for Kleenex. It’s love. It’s the terrible War. It’s heart-ache. It’s life with all it’s ups, downs and sideways that trip you up. Sentimental? Yeah, so?

The production is guided with the sure but tender hand of director Gil Garratt. He directs his actors with care and sensitivity. The heady world of young love is intoxicating because of the performances of Eli Ham as Charlie and Sophie Walker as Mary. He’s strapping and awkward; she’s confident and encouraging. Two lovely performances.

Comment. I wasn’t able to see the other shows of this first season of Gil Garratt as the Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival. I won’t let that happen next year.

Presented by the Blyth Festival.

Run: August 5- September 12, 2015.
Cast: 1 man, 1 woman
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission

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