Richmond’s Gateway Theatre presents director Ravi Jain’s new interpretation of David French’s Canadian stage classic, Salt-Water Moon.
While Jain strips away everything but the essentials in his new staging of French’s story of two reunited childhood sweethearts in 1926 Newfoundland, he also adds a new element, and goes for non-traditional casting.
Joining Mayko Nguyen and Kawa Ada on stage is Canadian music artist, Ania Soul, in the role of narrator. As part of the stripped-down nature of the production, Soul sings French’s stage directions, allowing audiences to visualize the settings for themselves.
“Ravi’s initial vision was brilliant: two lovers in and among the stars, void of place and time,” says Ada, who plays Jacob. “The music and narration he added, provided by the talented Ania Soul, is an ode to Newfoundland culture of story and song.”
For Nguyen, who plays the other half of the couple, Jain’s vision was both a blessing and a curse.
“On the one hand, there are no distractions getting in the way of the connection between myself and Kawa,” she says. “But it’s also challenging for that same reason, as there is nowhere to hide and no way to use the stage to alleviate discomfort as an actor.”
Describing the final look as a result of a collaborative process between director and his actors, Ada is grateful Jain involved them in many of the decisions.
“It makes for the best kind of theatrical experience for both for the actors, and the audience,” he says.
Part of Jain’s vision also included seeing the two characters played by actors of colour. The reaction from audiences to this non-traditional casting has been nothing but positive.
“I think doing the play this way opens it up and allows it a further reach beyond its traditionally white audience,” says Nguyen. “So much of the story is about class and struggle, and that is something I really believe that non-white audience members can identify and connect with.”
Nguyen also points to the universality of the play’s love story, something that does not change with the colour of an actor’s skin.
“It allows more people to experience this classic Canadian piece in a way that I don’t think has previously been done,” she continues.
Approaching the play as he would any other, Ada does acknowledge there were cultural and historical elements in the play outside his scope of experience and heritage.
“But that is becoming more and more the norm as Canada continues to flourish as one of the most diverse nations on the planet,” he says. “I am proud that we are doing a play that pays homage to those who built this great country, while being presented by artists who are continuing to help shape it. And audiences seem to celebrate that with us.”
Along with the new spins in this version of Salt-Water Moon, and despite having been written over thirty years ago, the play remains timeless, one which continues to resonate with audiences.
“It’s a very beautiful love story, but it’s also a story about class and struggle and the love we have for our family,” says Nguyen.
“The play has a beautiful reverence for those who fought in the Great War,” adds Ada. “It’s also about family history, the desire to improve on the life you’ve been dealt, and ultimately, about love, lost and regained. These are all things that are achingly familiar to us all.”
Salt-Water Moon plays the Gateway Theatre (6500 Gilbert Rd, Richmond) February 15 – 24. Visit http://gatewaytheatre.com for tickets and information.