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Elegant simplicity at Gateway

Lorraine Graves   Feb-19-2018

Ania Soul's voice and guitar wafts through the play while Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen shine in Salt-Water Moon under Ravi Jain's direction.

Photo by Joseph Michael Photography

Salt-Water Moon, Gateway’s most recent offering in their 2017-18 series opened Fri. Feb 14.

David French’s classic Canadian series starts with the meeting of the two young lovers, or in this case, two former lovers who say that last summer they were young but now, at 17, they have matured.



Like the aroma of the roast in the oven when you walk into the house for Sunday supper or your aunt’s favourite soap in the powder room, Ania Soul’s music, her guitar and voice, scents this play with flavour and atmosphere. This play has a sound track that unobtrusively enhances every moment.

Staged simply without a constructed set or costumes, the flickering tea lights on the stage, even the lighting of them at different stages of the play, demark different paths the characters take.

Soul’s other role is that of narrator. Her words guide us through the action, describing the setting and the costumes. I thought it would be a problem. I like sets and costumes. Yet, the narration works and works seamlessly. Much like a book or streaming audio, our minds are more than capable of conjuring a front porch on fisher’s house the 1920s Newfoundland, to round out the set. Soul’s voice, both singing and spoken, is soothing and clear. Her guitar playing, ethereal.

The actors are stellar. Kawa Ada is Jacob Mercer, the young man who escaped his father’s angry humiliation for a life in Toronto, leaving the girl he loved behind. Mercer returns the following year to find his sweetheart Mary Snow, played by Mayko Nguyen, engaged to the son of his father’s nemesis and cause of Mercer Senior’s deep humiliation.

Kawa and Nguyen are totally believable as young people finding their way in the world, deciding which world to live in—the big city or small Newfoundland outpost, and choosing whether to opt for wealth and comfort or love that will never be easy.

While not it’s not traditional to cast former child refugees, one Afghan and the other Vietnamese, in a Newfoundland classic, in Nguyen and Kawa’s skilled hands, it works. It works to show the universality of a good story well told, the universality of the damage war does to survivors, and the universality of the struggle to choose love.

The lighting is dim but bright enough to make out the faces. Though, if you are a little near-sighted, you might want to sit a bit closer than we did to make out the faces clearly. We were in Row M.

The sound is the same. Choosing not to mic the performers, meant a true sound. While the sound is fine, even near the back of the theatre, if you struggle a little with your hearing, you might want to sit a nearer the front.

While director Ravi Jain chooses not to use typical Newfoundland accents, the playwright’s dialogue abounds with the region’s syntax. Also, Nguyen speaks quickly, as most Newfoundlanders do particularly amongst themselves, yet every word is crystal clear. Nothing blurred. In fact, these two pros never seem to struggle to enunciate or project their voices. Even when they speak looking away from the audience, it is easy to tell what they are saying.

The play by David French is crafted so finely the seams don’t show. Techniques never glare but subtly blend to make this play a whole. The staging: the director’s decision to go with elegant simplicity, the narrator/musician’s role and subtle clarity offered by the actors adds up to a lovely evening that tugs at your heart strings, tickles the funny bone and holds your rapt attention until the final bow.

Salt-Water Moon runs at Gateway Theatre in Richmond through Saturday, Feb 24.

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