SALT-WATER MOON by David French, directed by Ted Dykstra (Soulpepper). At the Young Centre (55 Mill). Previews from Saturday (January 5), opens January 10, runs to January 31. $5-$65. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNNNN
It’s not often that an actor gets the chance to play both father and son in related works, but that’s the intriguing task facing Jeff Lillico.
Soulpepper staged a memorable revival of David French’s Leaving Home last season, about the troubled Mercer family in 50s Toronto. The company is following it up with French’s Salt-Water Moon, set in 1926 Newfoundland, a look at the young Jacob Mercer’s courtship of Mary Snow.
In Leaving Home, Lillico played the rebellious Ben, battling it out with his stubborn father Jacob; now he tackles the equally determined Jacob, who uses all his charms and skills to win the angry Mary, whom he abruptly abandoned a year earlier to move to Toronto.
“Not a whole lot changes in Jacob during those 30 years,” admits Lillico, a Soulpepper regular who’s off to Stratford next summer. “Even in his teens, he’s stubborn, filled with love for Mary and his family and a sense of anger and shame about something that’s happened to his father, something he can’t forget.
“He’s an animal of instinct, whose sudden action a year earlier almost lost him all that’s vital in his life. He hasn’t changed three decades later; he’s able to see the solution to others’ problems, but never his own.”
Salt-Water Moon is one of French’s best pieces, a delicate play filled with humour, storytelling and the often unspoken affection between Jacob and Mary.
“Even though she’s angry at his having left without a reason or even a goodbye, at some level they know they’re at their fullest when they’re with each other.”
It’s also driven by the tension of class differences, notes Lillico, who travelled to Newfoundland to do some research with his co-star, Krystin Pellerin, who’s from there.
“It wasn’t unusual for a thousand fishermen to be employed by a town’s dozen merchants, in a kind of financial slavery. There was a feeling of not wanting a person to succeed beyond his or her station in life; people had a real bond with and feeling of obligation to those in their own class.”
Lillico credits Soulpepper with reviving French’s epic series about the Mercers, which so far includes five scripts.
“I feel a real pride in doing these Canadian plays as theatre classics, along with the Shakespeare, Wilde and Chekhov that are also part of a Soulpepper season.”