By James Karas
David French’s Salt-Water Moon is a play about love and courtship that is full of humour and tenderness. It is set on the front porch and yard of a house in the seaside town of Coley’s Point, Newfoundland in 1926. That is ten years after the Battle of the Somme where so many Newfoundlanders were slaughtered.
Jacob Mercer (Kawa Ada), a strapping young man of seventeen, left his sweetheart Mary Snow (Mayko Nguyen) without so much as a goodbye and went to work in Toronto. A year later (the opening of the play) he returns to an angry Mary who is engaged to marry a well-off young man. Jacob must use all his wits, charm, braggadocio and, in the end, love to win Mary back.
Ania Soul, Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen. Photo: Joseph Michael Photography
When the lights go on for the current production, we see a Musician (Ania Soul) playing a guitar and singing. There are some forty to fifty candles on the stage and a young woman goes around lighting them. It is a slow process and my first thought is “I hope she does not intend to light all of them.” She does and it takes about ten (?)minutes to do it.
The woman is wearing blue jeans and turns out to be Mary. We will soon meet a young man wearing blue jeans and he will be Jacob. The lit candles are the entire set – no porch, no back yard and the Musician will never leave the stage. She will strum her guitar and occasionally sing. There are stretches of time when she is not doing anything and we can be grateful for it that but her presence on stage and her singing and playing are at best annoying.
After the candles are lit, the Musician reads French’s stage directions so that we can place the play and the characters in context. She will read stage directions a number of times during the performance.
Jacob and Mary must exude innocence; convey humour and romance in the moon-lit night of August 1926. She feels angry, abandoned and betrayed. She has found another man who will provide her with the means to escape her humiliating poverty.
Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen. Photo: Joseph Michael Photography
Jacob has to search for a way to get to her back. He makes up stories about girls in Toronto, brings her silk stockings and tells jokes until he finally breaks through.
French’s language in the Newfoundland accent has a lilt and musicality that is completely lacking from this production. Ada and Nguyen have no lilt or music in their voices and at times sound wooden. A well-built young man and an attractive woman without the freshness of youth, innocence and musicality cannot do Jacob and Mary justice. Reading the stage directions is no substitute for following them. A static performance is not an improvement. Providing musical accompaniment made things worse.
Director Ravi Jain has taken brave and daring steps to reimagine Salt-Water Moon as far away from its roots as possible. That is laudable and when it works it is theatrical magic. But when you take away the original magic of the play and do not find a compelling replacement the result can be numbing. _____