SALT-WATER MOON by David French (Factory, 125 Bathurst). Runs to March 13, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2 pm. $35. 416-504-9971, factorytheatre.ca. Rating: NNNNN
Director Ravi Jains extraordinary production of Salt-Water Moon, David Frenchs classic love story, is elementary in the best sense.
Relying simply on light, water, music and text, the staging provides both the external and internal worlds of Jacob Mercer (Kawa Ada) and Mary Snow (Mayko Nguyen), Newfoundland teens who broke up a year before the plays start, when Jacob, without explanation or goodbye, moved to Toronto.
Now its 1926, and Jacob has returned to woo Mary back from her recent fiance, the well-off schoolteacher Jerome. Both characters, living in poverty, feel and eventually express their anger and hurt, Jacob for the humiliation suffered by his father at the hands of Jeromes father, Mary for her lengthy placement in service and her sisters virtual incarceration in a girls institution.
Rather than play out the story in the usual manner a rural house and country road set, period costumes, Newfoundland accents and such Jain strips the story to its basics.
The actors perform on a bare black stage lit by dozens of candles floating in bowls of water. Singer/guitarist Ania Soul reads the stage directions and also musically underscores the action, beginning the show by singing warmly about achy-breaky hearts and two people being meant for each other.
The result is that we become aware of the two related worlds of Mary and Jacob, the realistic outer supplied by Soul, and the inner filled with stars and water, images central to the play in which they spiritually and more essentially reside.
The staging beautifully captures their passionate confrontations and tenderness. It also underlines how expertly French uses seemingly ordinary exchanges to allow Jacob and Mary to launch into recollections of their troubled family histories during and after the First World War.
You couldnt ask for a better pairing of performers or more emotionally honest work than in this Factory Theatre production. Adas Jacob is seductive, brash when it suits him and a first-class storyteller, while Nguyens spirited Mary begins with a staunch, self-protective facade that melts now and then to let in Jacobs enticing courtship.
Their chemistry is potent, but each has a standout moment: Jacob recounting a Tom Mix cowboy movie he saw in Toronto and Mary remembering a visit with her abused sister.
Their silences are as engaging and resonant as the lines they speak, and they each cast the occasional secretive glance to drink in the other. Even their fights have moments of flirtation.
French ends what is arguably his best play on a note of tart affection, here captured splendidly. He suggests that this couple will be tied together for years by love and the occasional battle, a fact born out by later plays in the Mercer cycle. I cant imagine a Salt-Water Moon that better captures that very human blend of affection and tension.