The play’s complexity makes it beautiful for the audience, but challenging for the actors
by Sarah Kester – Mar. 26, 2011
Salt-Water Moon took a while to connect with. But when it did, I was hooked like a North Atlantic cod.
Bryn Robins McLeod’s vision of David French’s wistful play makes for a beautiful piece of theatre, held back only by a few minor hiccups. McLeod chose to cast three actors for the play’s two roles, effectively creating six. At first this made for some awkward pacing. The chemistry – so key in a love story – was often broken or non-existent as the roles switched actors from moment to moment. But as I was swept along with the story and the nuances that each actor brought to the roles, I found myself reeled right in.
The play tracks the endurance of love between Jacob and Mary, small-town Newfoundland sweethearts of the so-called Lost Generation. By watching three different actors, the audience was able to see three slightly different interpretations of the same characters interacting with each other. And, as the pairs were not consistent, the audience was always treated to a slightly different angle on the relationship – such as the comic bravado Jackson Byrne brought to Jacob or the intensity Andrea Benson brought to Mary.
While having three different actors in each role created a sort of timeless quality, it was not without its limits. The characteristic Newfie accent spoken by both characters is supposed to make for a rich, authentic dialogue and sense of place, but was stronger in some actors, weaker in others, and nonexistent at some parts. And having six actors for two parts allowed the actors to play to their various strengths, but inevitably highlighted some of their weakness. While the end product certainly made for well-rounded characters, some actors clearly had an easier time hitting moments than others. Ames Esler and Adriana Fraser were particularly engaging during their interactions, made all the clearer when contrasted with other pairings that didn’t seem quite as convincing.
Nevertheless, McLeod masterfully set the piece on a very intimate stage with a simple triangular riser. Her engineering of the actors’ movements as they navigated the small stage made for beautifully balanced tableaus. Her understanding of levels and use of space created a wonderful dance throughout the show, and though the reasons for these movements were sometimes unclear, or occasionally deflated the emotional intensity of the actors’ interactions, the choreography was generally clean, tightly executed and beautiful.
The use of levels and the space further allowed each actor to be engaged in the scene even if they weren’t the one speaking the lines. Particularly noteworthy was a sequence in which Jacob describes to Mary a picture-show as the two sit on a porch step. The three couples sat so that each one was facing a different section of the audience, and even when they weren’t speaking the actors fully embodied and portrayed the characters’ intentions. Eric Cunningham and Kristin Slaney faced my section of audience, and their dedication to nuance in the scene was simply a pleasure to watch.
McLeod added still more depth to the production with a score conceived and performed by musician Sean Donald. His guitar strumming and banjo picking set the tone for the show, and as McLeod describes in her director’s note, it truly was like having another character present. Even though there were moments when the music slightly drowned out the dialogue, it firmly rooted the action in rural Newfoundland in a way that verbal description simply couldn’t.
The show was a pleasure to watch. It’s been a long while since I’ve been so taken into the world of a play – hook, line, and, sinker. Bi’ Jaysus, get to duh Pit if ya can, moy son.