In "Mary's Wedding," a delicate-looking Englishwoman recounts a dream that involves a fast-moving lightning storm, a skittish horse and an equally nervous farmhand. She distracts the young man by urging him to recite Tennyson with her; he then gives her a ride home after the bluster passes, a breathless experience that unsettles the horse-shy woman, leading her to believe "it's fear that I'm feeling." But not too much later the unwittingly smitten lass reconsiders: "It's not fear, but something new."
With its poetry and fervor, "Mary's Wedding," written by Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte, initially threatens to drown in its own melodrama. From the beginning, the impending tragedy of this World War I-era story is hardly veiled: A prologue by Charlie (Aubrey Deeker), the lightning-phobic commoner turned soldier, warns that there are "sad parts," and the desperation with which Mary (Kathleen Coons) recalls her dream makes it clear that it's actually a nightmare.
But the whirlwind of "Mary's Wedding" is too precisely crafted and, in this Theater Alliance production, expertly executed to let audience cynicism creep in. Massicotte tells his story of the couple's courtship within the frame of Mary's dream, and the two characters re-create their early interactions with each other, Charlie's experiences on the battlefield, and fanciful episodes in which Charlie is present as Mary reads his letters from France.
Though its action jumps in time and place, "Mary's Wedding" is well-balanced in its alternating story lines of love and war. The combination of masculine and feminine qualities present in both characters makes them not only realistic but likable.
The chemistry between Coons and Deeker is undeniable -- even their first chaste and rather awkward encounters are electric -- but both actors are also magnetic on their own. Coons, with a thin white ribbon holding back her auburn hair, is tiny and barefoot in a silky white dress that's as much nightgown as wedding frock. She's a picture of daintiness, but Mary is anything but: From the manner in which she calms Charlie during each storm to the way she pursues him despite her naivete and fear, Coons's Mary exudes intelligence and strength, qualities only reinforced by the actress's seamless double duty as Sgt. Flowerdew in battle scenes with Charlie. Deeker, too, makes his character a mix of youthful confidence and vulnerability, eager to fight in the war but sheepish when meeting Mary's mother at tea.
Nearly a character itself is Dan Covey's stunning lighting design, which cuts through the fog-dipped, barn-like set of wooden beams and sandbags to conjure lightning and bombs, as well as the more intangible moments of romance and danger in Mary's dreamy recollections. When Charlie announces that he's leaving for war, he and Mary quote Tennyson in their argument over whether he should go, each then disputes the other with, "That's poetry, not real life." With a look that's as simultaneously realistic and ethereal as its story, "Mary's Wedding" is thorough in its suggestion that it's possible to have a bit of both.
Mary's Wedding, by Stephen Massicotte. Directed by Jeremy Skidmore. Choreography, Kelly Parsley; set, Tony Cisek; lights, Dan Covey; sound, Mark K. Anduss; costumes, Frank Labovitz. Approximately 90 minutes. Through Sept. 5 at H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE. Call 800-494-8497 or visit www.theateralliance.com.