SALT-WATER MOON by David French, directed by Ted Dykstra (Soulpepper). At Young Centre (55 Mill). To January 31. $5-$65. 416-866-8666. Rating: NNNN
Using storytelling as the road to a final emotional destination, David French’s expertly crafted Salt-Water Moon is deservedly a Canadian classic. Soulpepper’s production hits most, though not all, of the work’s high notes.
Last year Soulpepper revived Leaving Home, the first in French’s five-play saga about the Mercer family, set in the 1950s. In Salt-Water Moon he goes back to 20s Newfoundland, on the night when Jacob Mercer woos Mary Snow.
The cycle’s other plays tell us he wins her, but the journey to that victory is touching and sometimes upsetting, filled with rich personal and political history.
A year earlier, Jacob had abruptly left for Toronto, without reason or goodbye, and now he’s returned to find Mary spoken for by another. Over the course of the play, Jacob and Mary lay bare their pains and desires.
These are two teens whose childhood experiences have turned them into adults before their time, and part of what they must do in order to heal and connect is share their hopes and hurts with each other. Storytelling, sometimes involving private memories, sometimes concocted yarns, is their means of doing so.
Under director Ted Dykstra, Leff Lillico captures the charm and subtle manipulation of Jacob, cajoling with sweet words or angrily hammering out the bitterness and shame his family has known.
Lillico enriches the outwardly brash but inwardly uncertain Jacob with little details, reacting to the sudden thrust of a telescope into his hand or slicking his hair back before offering Mary a gift.
Krystin Pellerin conveys the yearning that lies within Mary from the play’s first moments, even before she utters a word and before Jacob appears on the scene. She carries an unvoiced sigh in her frame, and a touching tremour shakes her body when Jacob comes near enough to spark a physical reaction.
But she’s less solid when Mary has to reach into her past and recount the painful changes visited on her family by the First World War. Even though it’s tightly controlled, her anger has to sear us, and Pellerin tells us about it rather than feels it.