Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Set just after World War II, the entire action of the play takes place in the New York City hotel suite where Mary McKinley lives and is anxiously awaiting the arrival of soldier John Lawrence who is returning home after being away for three years. John's life was saved during a battle by his fellow soldier Fred Taylor, who had fallen in love with an English girl, Lily Herbish, but they were separated when the war ended and Fred was quickly sent back home. Since John feels indebted to Fred for saving his life and since he knows the only way Lily could get into America is if she were married, John married her before he came back to the U.S. with the intention of getting a quick divorce in Reno so Lily and Fred would be free to marry.
However, John doesn't let Mary know he is married and when Mary's parents, Senator and Mrs. McKinley, arrive on the scene it prompts an engagement between Mary and John. Her parents rush for the wedding to happen that week, since the couple have known each other for three years and since the senator wants to get back to Washington as quickly as possible. However, since John is still married to Lily, John and Fred come up with a plan to delay the wedding until John and Lily can get divorced, which only makes Mary and her parents question if John actually loves Mary.
While Krasna's play may have a thin plot, with only a couple of significant plot twists after the initial setup, it features charming characters and some humorous situations. Under Diedra Celeste Miranda's direction, the cast do quite well in ensuring their characters are realistic and warm, that the comedy rings true, and that the laughs derived from the humorous situations are genuine.
David Michael Paul and Kim Stephenson Smith make a winning twosome as John and Mary. Once the wedding date is rushed, Paul instills John with several nervous traits as his plans start to unravel, while Smith's Mary becomes appropriately confused and wary of John's true intentions due to his continual attempts to delay their nuptials.
Matthew R. Harris is suitably frazzled as Fred, and he and Paul play off each other very well, adding to the comic hijinks. Justin Howell and Laura Soldan project a sense of elegance as Senator James McKinley and Mrs. Phyllis McKinley. Howell is very matter of fact while Soldan is sensible and quite compassionate.
As usual for a Hale show, the creative aspects are superb. Brian Daily's set and McKenna Carpenter and Laura Hawkes props are an appropriate assortment of elegant fixtures and furnishings. Tia Hawkes' costumes and Cambrian James' wigs and makeup are fitting for the period, with sharp suits, crisp military garb, and sophisticated dresses.
John Loves Mary may have a thin premise, but this Hale Centre Theatre production is sweet, fun, fast paced, and full of charm.
John Loves Mary runs through November 19, 2019, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181.
Directed by Diedra Celeste Miranda