Review by Ellen S. Jaffe
Beautifully imagined and staged by director Ravi Jain, the Factory Theatre’s production of “Salt-Water Moon” by David French, will go straight to the audience’s heart. The play’s two characters, Mary Snow, played with delicate strength by Mayko Nguyen, and Jake Mercer, portrayed with charismatic vitality by Kawa Ada, are in a sense “naked” on stage—dressed in ordinary clothes, with no props or scenery except for fifty or more candles in glass jars, spread across the stage like stars and carefully lit by Mary as the play opens.
This minimalism lends a sense of timelessness, though the play is clearly set in a coastal out port in 1926, when Newfoundland was a separate country, not yet part of Canada. The plot is a lyric love story interwoven with Newfoundland’s history, culture, and folklore. As Mary watches the stars on a summer night, she is surprised by her former sweetheart, Jake, returning from “away.” He abruptly left for Toronto a year before to work and to escape a difficult family situation, without saying goodbye to Mary—though he never stopped loving her. Feeling forsaken and abandoned, she became engaged to the school-teacher son of the wealthy merchant who shamed his father, one of the few survivors of the Newfoundland Regiment’s deadly Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. Mary’s father was killed in the war, her mother is ill, and she is “in service” to a prosperous family in town. She is determined to rescue her younger sister from an abusive Home for Girls, and sees marriage as a chance to do this and gain security and respect. Jake senses the flame of their love has never died. Will Mary’s “snow” melt during the play? Can Jake “come home again”?
The play is introduced and narrated by the talented musician Ania Soul, who sits on stool at the side of the stage, singing and playing her guitar, and reading the play’s stage directions to set the scenes. This dramatic device adds intimacy to the play, as if we are looking in at these two people during a magical, private moment, and Kaileigh Krysztofiak’s lighting subtly enhances the atmosphere. Nguyen and Ada both become more passionate as play reaches a climax (though Nguyen needs to work on projecting her gentle voice), and the ending is emotionally stunning.
Although one of three plays by French about the Mercer family, this piece can stand on its own. The multi-cultural nature of this cast and production team shows that Canada has wonderful theatre artists from many different cultures, who can work with classic as well as new plays. Jain, creator of the play “A Brimful of Asha,” notes, “Theatre happens in the immediate moment, where past and present collide in hopes to inspire visions for the future.” I applaud Factory Theatre for their new vision of this play and the others presented this season. “Salt- Water Moon” runs at the Factory, Feb. 23-March 13, 8:00 (Sunday 2pm).