Kawa Ada returns to the starlit world of Salt-Water Moon
by DREW ROWSOME - Production photos by Joseph Michael Photography 07 October 2017
"By the time we got to the last week of the first run, I was so heartbroken," says Kawa Ada of playing Jacob in Salt-Water Moon. "The audience response was so supportive and lovely that we wanted to continue to share it. I'm very excited to do it again, to share it with an audience again."
Factory Theatre's production of Salt-Water Moon was such a hit that it was impossible to accommodate everyone who wanted to experience it. Fortunately Mirvish Productions stepped in and a remount is imminent at the larger Panasonic Theatre. Ada admits that he is "neurotic" when tackling a new project but when I talked to him before the first iteration of Salt-Water Moon, he was specifically hesitant about tackling an iconic Canadian classic. "I was very reticent at first," he admits, "but when I said, 'Yes,' I was extremely nervous and scared about it but that's a good thing because I like to take on projects that scare me half to death."
Frightened but determined, Ada with the expert help of director Ravi Jain (Prince Hamlet, Gimme Shelter) dove in. "As we went through making this play, it envelopes you in this beautiful sentimental hug," says Ada. "As cheesy as that may sound, you cannot help, if you are open to it and you just let the play into your heart, as an actor you can't help but resonate with the love foundation that it is built on. So I just let go and gave over to it."
His fears proved unfounded. "We as people of colour coming in to do this play, and no actors of colour have ever done this play, the concern being the reversal of appropriation. Of taking on something that I don't necessarily have the right to," he says. "But at the same time we always wanted to honour Canadian culture and Newfoundland culture which is of itself beautiful in its own heritage and make up. To make it as universal as possible, that the references are reverent, as it would be with two white actors with Newfoundland accents. What we discovered is that there is a universality in that, all cultures that come to Canada or are a part of Canada's make-up have these relationships with war, class and divisions and trying to hang on to their heritage in the face of all that. And that's what really came to the fore."
Even in the times of Trump, great actors in a timeless script trump petty but ingrained divisions. "As much as it became irrelevant," says Ada, he became aware of something more universal and disturbing. "The characters in this play are dealing with a major class system, up against class divisions. And that was a major parallel for me to access. In the last week of performances director Ravi Jain was able to say 'Oh, this is finally coming along.' And I went 'I get it, his desperation.' And before that I did not understand, or wasn't fully able to engage with, or wasn't able to manifest it in my performance. When it ended, I thought, that this is where I need to begin."
While Ada's performance promises to be, if possible, deeper and more nuanced, the remarkable ambiance will not change. "It will be the sparse simple set and design we had last time. No falling chandelier. No helicopter coming down from the ceiling," says Ada laughing. "In early conversations with Ravi, he wanted it to be an ethereal non-descript place. In and among the stars even, so that it was people's imaginations that would fill in the blanks. In the end the last character that comes into the play is the audience. And if the audience responds it's magical. And that's what audiences have done."
The only technical change is a minor one. "Not only is the Panasonic not as intimate as Factory Theatre, but the configuration is very long," he explains. "We were very concerned about the distance from the balcony. So we have microphones. They will be as unobtrusive as possible, just enough to give us a boost so that we can be intimate but still be heard. We want to make sure the audience gets as intimate and as theatrical an experience as possible."