The latest Jungle Theater production is yet another tour de force. There is something quite mystical about how much energy this company is able to generate in its plays. From the small stage, the actors speak to the audience, themselves in a rather undersized space, and a very intimate setting is born. This works perfectly in the context of “Mary’s Wedding,” which strikes the sentimental side of the spectators. It is a story about remembering and forgetting, about dreams and nightmares, and ultimately, about love. Director Joel Sass infuses the old-fashioned story of love during war with a modern vibe without compromising its classic qualities.
The two actors, Alayne Hopkins and Sam Bardwell, deftly steer through the plot exposing a myriad of emotions. Alayne Hopkins offers a dazzling performance as she weaves her way back and forth in time, and also supplies the voice and persona of Sergeant Flowerdew, her lover’s superior and friend during the war. Sam Bardwell, as Charlie, adequately complements his partner’s effort, and hits a high note himself during the breathtaking scene of the charge on the German front lines. As he catches his breath, Charlie utters, “the charge wasn’t poetry,” referencing a Lord Tennyson poem. But the acting in this play certainly is.
The two actors complement each other very well at the level of expression, but it is the physical connection that we see develop before our own eyes that really sets the play apart. Both actors move frantically about the stage, but Carl Flink’s brilliant choreography brings them together closer. The two lovers mesh into an interpretative, modern dance which becomes a veritable dance of love. Their fluid moves across the stage point to the tragedy of the story, though. In spite of the constant movement, they are both trapped, confined to the limited space of a barn and of a dream—Mary remembers her love story with Charlie through a dream, the night before her wedding.
The rustic set (designed by director Joel Sass) is absolutely perfect in its simplicity and subliminal message. A large door is seen through the tall, wooden wall of the barn, but the actors, except on one occasion, do not venture beyond it. The set thus enhances the feeling of confinement: the two lovers are caught in an oneiric maze. The sensation that we are descending into Mary’s unconscious is further suggested by the work of three people: Greg Brosofske’s understated music, Sean Healey’s sound design and Barry Browning’s fabulous lighting design. The flawless arrangement of these three elements, aural and visual, bestows a magical aspect upon the play. It is not only a love story, it is a fantasy.
At the end of the play,
Charlie retreats to the back of the stage and stands still in the door
sill, without crossing over. As Mary finishes her monologue and the
lights dim out, he is slowly obscured. He becomes a silhouette whose
shadow is projected beyond the wall. That is when the audience
realizes, again, that it was all a dream, that Charlie was simply a
specter, a figment of Mary’s memory or imagination. The craft of
director Joe Sass is on display one last time: it really is poetry.