December 18, 2018

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A fresh take

Director shakes up traditional casting in Salt-Water Moon adaptation

Michael Tan</p><p>Bahareh Yaraghi and Danny Ghantous star in Salt-Water Moon, which is on stage until Feb. 11.</p></p>

Michael Tan

Bahareh Yaraghi and Danny Ghantous star in Salt-Water Moon, which is on stage until Feb. 11.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2018 (327 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In a way, David French’s play Salt-Water Moon arrives at Prairie Theatre Exchange at a perfect moment for local theatre.

First produced in 1984, the romantic drama is centred on Jacob, a young Newfoundlander who, in 1926, returns to his hometown to woo Mary, the young woman he abandoned a year earlier to pursue a dream of big-city independence.

Mary is now engaged to another man and will not be easily swayed from her choice.

In the wake of the sold-out run of Come From Away at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC), it feels like a good time to revisit a Newfoundland-set classic of Canadian theatre

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2018 (327 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

In a way, David French’s play Salt-Water Moon arrives at Prairie Theatre Exchange at a perfect moment for local theatre.

First produced in 1984, the romantic drama is centred on Jacob, a young Newfoundlander who, in 1926, returns to his hometown to woo Mary, the young woman he abandoned a year earlier to pursue a dream of big-city independence.

Michael Tan photo</p><p>Bahareh Yaraghi (left) and Danny Ghantous star in Salt-Water Moon.</p></p>

Michael Tan photo

Bahareh Yaraghi (left) and Danny Ghantous star in Salt-Water Moon.

Mary is now engaged to another man and will not be easily swayed from her choice.

In the wake of the sold-out run of Come From Away at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC), it feels like a good time to revisit a Newfoundland-set classic of Canadian theatre

But audiences looking for a return trip to the East Coast realm of not-quite-Irish accents, rubber boots and sou’westers may find themselves at odds with this production from Toronto-based Factory Theatre — touring with Why Not Theatre.

Take it up with director Ravi Jain (also Why Not’s artistic director), who approaches Salt-Water Moon with an upstart sensibility.

For example, his cast bears no resemblance to actors of past productions who may have been chosen for the fact they look more or less like Newfoundlanders of the era.

Prairie Theatre Exchange</p><p>Salt-Water Moon director Ravi Jain.</p></p>

Prairie Theatre Exchange

Salt-Water Moon director Ravi Jain.

The role of Jacob is played by Greek-born Lebanese actor Danny Ghantous. Mary is played by Iranian-Canadian Bahareh Yaraghi, last seen on the RMTC stage a few months back as Viola de Lesseps in Shakespeare in Love.

Further upsetting the apple cart of theatrical propriety, Jain has turned the two-hander into a three-hander with the addition of singer Ania Soul providing music and narration on stage alongside Ghantous and Yaraghi.

"Traditionally, the play is done in a realistic setting," acknowledges Jain in the course of a phone interview.

"It gives you the sense that it’s 1926 in Newfoundland and we’re on a porch."

This production jettisons the regionally specific trappings, and even French’s wardrobe specifications, which we only hear about in French’s stage directions, read aloud by Soul during the course of the play.

Jain, himself of South Asian descent, says his motivation was to "take the play out of the museum" to invigorate it with a fresh take.

"It’s funny because so much of this play is absolutely set in Newfoundland and that history is really a part of it," he says.

"But one of the things I love about what we were able to do, was really make it relatable to a lot of different folks. But it absolutely has that wonderful Newfoundland charm that you can’t help but fall in love with."

Yaraghi (right) and Ania Soul, a singer who provides music and narration on stage.

MICHAEL TAN PHOTO

Yaraghi (right) and Ania Soul, a singer who provides music and narration on stage.

Jain says the drama is sufficiently strong on its own, it doesn’t need the trappings we may have come to expect, including an all-white ethnicity.

"What we’re doing is to ask the audience what it really means to be Canadian now," he says.

"When you close your eyes and imagine what a Canadian looks like, what do you see?

"We want to challenge the status quo and challenge what stories are being told, and who gets to tell them."

Jain’s rework affords an opportunity denied other audiences in that we get to hear French’s stage directions spoken by Soul.

They are "extremely poetic and quite beautiful," Jain says.

"We didn’t want to lose the aspect of the traditional East Coast storytelling, so what I added was a singing narrator, which was really borne out of thinking about East Coast storytelling, the use of song," he says.

"It’s used in a way to evoke the audience’s imagination, in imagining the world that they’re seeing around them," he says.

"So in doing that, it’s a way to contemporize the play and put it in context of now and have actors of colour play the parts that are not traditionally played by actors of colour."


The shakeup is reflective of Jain’s mission with Why Not Theatre. On the strength of his upstart sensibility, Jain was associated with Toronto’s embattled Soulpepper Theatre Company, currently in turmoil following sexual harassment charges against its deposed artistic director Albert Schultz.

Jain left that position more than six months ago when it became clear to him his voice wasn’t being heard.

"The need for change has been evident for a really long time, and maybe the mainstream is realizing it because of this big scandal, but people have been calling for change for a long time," he says.

"Part of why I left was the difficulty of not being listened to and heard and feeling like my voice was tokenized."

Jain is being heard with his interpretation of Salt-Water Moon, which has already enjoyed successful runs in Toronto and Calgary, finding appreciative audiences who don’t need to be slapped in the face with a cod to feel a connection to Newfoundland.

"For the most part, it’s been received really well and people are excited by what we did because it really brings out the text in a new way," he says. "For the majority of people, we’ve been able to unlock the play and honour its history at the same time."

randall.king@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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