My Gay Toronto - MGT Stage

Salt-Water Moon: the specific becomes universal and opens into a universe

by Drew Rowsome - photos by Joseph Michael Photography

Storytelling is at the heart of Salt-Water Moon. The two characters flirt, fight and attempt to explain their emotions through stories. And the stories, like the history of any small community, all intertwine before neatly tying together. It is easy to see why Salt-Water Moon is a beloved Canadian classic. It has a simple, very romantic through line but lots of folksy digressions and gentle comedy. And it is filled with the weight of the hardships of Newfoundland life post-World War I, a history and socio-economic lesson wrapped in a love story.

Director Ravi Jain (Gimme Shelter) turns a specific time and place into a fairy tale setting with the use of candles and a folk music underscore/narration provided by Ania Soul. The narration, often consisting of playwright David French's very specific stage directions, are often in direct contradiction with the very stripped down, almost modern, version on stage. The cognitive dissonance produced adds to the timelessness and emphasizes the melodrama of the play: when Mayko Nguyen utters a silent scream while Soul describes a loud shriek, the combination, and the disconnect, is somehow gut-wrenching. 

At other times the narration is intrusive, goes for a cheap laugh or an Our Town effect, or is musically pitched at the same tone as Nguyen's speaking voice, rendering many of her lines inaudible or mangled. However it would take more than a battalion of folk singers armed with guitars to distract from Kawa Ada. He blusters, sings and struts with a macho swagger that melts into puppy dog eyes. He is a very handsome and charming rogue and he seduces Nguyen, and the audience, with ease. 

Ada's spellbinding storytelling is at its best when he takes Nguyen to the "picture shows" to see Tom Mix, "King of the Cowboys," and treats her to his vision of his better self. The audience almost believes that there are flickering lights dancing on the wall. Ada isn't wearing a white cowboy hat, but he is wearing his heart on his sleeve, no matter how desperately he tries to keep it concealed. 

Nguyen has shown Ada the stars, the potential future, and the metaphor is brought to life with a simple bit of theatrical sleight of hand: the specific becomes universal and opens into a universe. Jain manages to create, with the use of dozens of dollar store candles and two talented actors, what it took Robert Lepage millions of dollars to do in Vegas with Ka. It is very satisfying and does exactly what Factory Theatre's "Naked" season was designed to do, use the audience's imagination to create magic.

Salt-Water Moon runs until Sun, March 13 at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St.