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Joseph Michael Photography
Ania Soul (left), Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen
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Joseph Michael Photography
Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen
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 Jain’s extraordinary production of Salt-Water Moon, David French’s 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 play’s start, when Jacob, without explanation or goodbye, moved to Toronto.
Now it’s 1926, and Jacob has returned to woo Mary back from her recent fiancé, 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 Jerome’s father, Mary for her lengthy placement in service and her sister’s 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 couldn’t ask for a better pairing of performers or more emotionally honest work than in this Factory Theatre production. Ada’s Jacob is seductive, brash when it suits him and a first-class storyteller, while Nguyen’s spirited Mary begins with a staunch, self-protective façade that melts now and then to let in Jacob’s 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 can’t imagine a Salt-Water Moon that better captures that very human blend of affection and tension.