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This article was published 26/1/2018 (626 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
At first blush, David French’s romantic drama Salt-Water Moon seems precisely the kind of play that would be resistant to an experimental interpretation.
This two-hander is a crowd-pleasing battle of wits and passions between proud young Mary and Jacob, the headstrong young man who left her behind a year earlier to seek his fortunes in Toronto. By the time Jacob returns to his hometown, Mary is engaged to be married to another.
By David French
Prairie Theatre Exchange
To Feb. 11
Tickets $25 to $52 at pte.mb.ca
3 1/2 stars out of five
Set in the Newfoundland of the mid-1920s, it’s a story written by French with very specific latitudes and longitudes with regard to time and space. It was written, as Joyce would have it, with the artistic understanding that its themes are universal, no matter what the particulars.
Basically, this is the operating contract between artist and audience in most drama.
But director Ravi Jain, the artistic director of Toronto’s Why Not Theatre, demonstrates a why-not? ethos in this Factory Theatre production. Jain jettisons the period costumes and the I’s-the-b’y accents. He even dispenses with the rustic porch setting, instead placing the action on a bare stage decorated with clumps of tea light candles. Combined with glycerine fog and a slowly revealed backdrop of stars, the set resembles a deliberately vague, Twilight Zone-esque depiction of purgatory.
Jain also disregards French’s stage directions. We know this because a third party has invaded this two-character space. Ania Soul (also known as Janisa Weekes) discreetly sings folk-infused R&B songs from off to the side while reading aloud French’s stage directions. And the actors — Danny Ghantous as Jacob and Bahareh Yaraghi as Mary — do not necessarily act out what the directions indicate.
Finally, purists may be doubly confounded by the casting of actors of Middle Eastern descent in the lead roles: Ghantous is of Lebanese extraction and Yaraghi was born in Iran. Presumably, someone out there might view the play and complain: these people don’t look like Newfoundlanders.
But Jain’s point is that they do, at least in contemporary Newfoundland. Instead of looking for the next Gordon Pinsent and/or Mary Walsh, Jain cast actors strictly on their ability to channel the emotional truth of the characters, born of tragedy.
Both characters are suffering the repercussions of the First World War, especially with regard to the sufferings of their parents. Each character feels betrayed by the other. Yet both are drawn to each other with a potent urgency.
Instead of being contrarian with regard to the play’s regional trappings, Jain’s direction here suggests the play is strong enough that it doesn’t need them.
The themes of love, betrayal and forgiveness are as primal as the passions of these two characters, played with intelligence and feeling by Ghantous and Yaraghi.
It amounts to a good and worthy experiment, but the minimalist staging is problematic. The fog, the candles and Soul’s mellow-soul soundtrack tend to muffle the dynamics of the two characters.
Where there should be cracks of lightning, the play tends to lull with the persistent hum of a dynamo. We know the electricity is there, but it is too much under control to really crackle.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.