Also see Sarah's review of The Late Henry Moss
Ideally, perhaps, just as the girl in Stephen Massicotte's World War I dream play: always just that close to scandal; with a boy who's destined for faraway adventures. Echo Theatre's production of these innocents' romance is flawless on every level, as Mary (Magan Wiles) discovers love on her own terms, and Charlie (Ben Nordstrom) comes of age on the field of battle.
Full of thunder and lightning, on a set that easily suggests both an old barn and a trench bunker; and as unstuck in time as Slaughterhouse Five, this otherwise antique story creeps up on us with a power at once solemn and delightful. Every thirty minutes or so, you might find yourself a little too world-weary for these naifs. But the playwright is clever enough to shake things up at regular intervals, and yank us back into the perpetual re-discovery of love. Throughout, Mr. Nordstrom and Ms. Wiles are guileless, and almost always full of youthful certainty, whether fighting the enemy in muddy fields, or just imagining the struggle: armed with nothing more than a folded umbrella, like a character out of Peter Pan.
The play also benefits from some clever double-casting, with Ms. Wiles as Charlie's commanding officer, as well. This helps draw us inside the soldier's heart, though of course the larger story comes out of Mary's. Director Eric Little is gently masterful in filling the stage with gestures and action that's elegant and surprising (especially when Charlie is wounded and dragged from a snowy battlefield).
A few times during the show, I glanced at the row of older women sitting in front of me, and each one seemed transfixed with an invisible hand on her throat or over her mouth, as if the story had touched them on some deeply personal level. Equally remarkable is the audacious innocence of the actors on stage, and the smoothness that suffuses their every word and move. Off stage, great technical prowess is displayed throughout in a long list of complex light and sound cues.
Through April 20, 2008 in the Johnson Hall Theater, in the rear of the Third Baptist Church, in Mid-town St. Louis (620 North Grand at Washington). For more information call (314) 225-4329 or go to www.echotheatrecompany.org.
*Denotes member of Actors' Equity Association
Photo: John Lamb