Salt-Water Moon has been performed countless times since its debut in the mid 1980s, yet the current production at Gateway Theatre brings a fresh take to the Canadian classic.
The Factory Theatre production, on tour with Why Not Theatre is directed by Ravi Jain who reimagines David French’s story about the romantic beginnings of Jacob Mercer and Mary Snow’s relationship. While it is the third in French’s Mercer Family play cycle, a tale about the Mercer’s a family of Newfoundland immigrants to Canada, Salt-Water Moon is really the beginning of the family’s story. Salt-Water Moon is a snapshot of one night early in the courtship of Jacob and Mary. The two-hander usually takes place on a stage set with the clapboard board porch of a 1926 Newfoundland home with the detailed period costumes as outlined by the playwright. Ravi Jain has departed from this traditional take and added a new element to this staging.
The gloss black stage is set with a constellation of floating candles, reflecting the night sky and creating a warmth as the stage twinkles. Joining the two actors, Kawa Ada as Jacob and Mayko Nguyen as Mary, onstage is Ania Soul. The soul/R&B musician provides a musical background to the poetic script and recites aloud David French’s script notes. The notes describe the setting and actions but with the blank stage before them, the audience is allowed paint their own mental image to surround the two actors, who are dressed in simple modern street clothes.
By casting non-white actors as the Newfoundlanders, director Jain gently reminds the Canadian audiences that this is a play about immigrants, set before Newfoundland joined Confederation. Kawa Ada, an Afghan-Canadian and Mayko Nguyen, who is of Vietnamese descent, bring a natural realism to their dynamic, even though they are clearly older than their teenage characters. I believe by allowing the audience to set so much of the stage in their mind, it’s easier to believe the pair’s teen angst. Ada’s Jacob is a cocksure, charismatic boy who has matured beyond his years after a year-long stint in Toronto. Meanwhile, Nguyen’s Mary, in spite of the firm facade forged from being in-service to the local Member of Parliament’s household from an early age, maintains the innocence of small-town Newfoundland. With a mother unable to care for her and her younger sister, who is now in the care of a convent, Mary thinks she has it all worked out, until Jacob’s return to town throws a wrench in her plans.
Kawa Ada is a commanding presence onstage, nicely balancing Mayko Nguyen’s intensity. Although I did find it a bit hard to hear her when she was facing the back of the stage and it took a few moments to adjust to the Newfoundland dialect the play is an enjoyable opportunity to visit the other side of the country in a time long-ago. The 90 minute (no intermission) moves along quickly as your mind fills in the paint-by-numbers imagery while the actors provide the dialogue and Ania, the music.
Salt-Water Moon runs until February 24, 2018 at Gateway Theatre in Richmond. Find tickets and times online at gatewaytheatre.com