Canadian classic features two lovers among the stars
Kabul-born actor transported back to 1920s Newfoundland
Regarded by many asa Canadian classic, Salt-Water Moon is set in 1920s Newfoundland. As such, it’s probably not the first play that an actor of colour might see themself starring in.
“I encountered it in high school, but it never spoke to me in terms of a play I would ever do,” said Kawa Ada.
The Afghanistan-born actor plays Jacob Mercer, one of the two lead characters in a new take on David French’s 1985 work.
“I appreciated it. I’m a huge fan of David French’s writing. But as an actor of colour, you tend to look for plays that you might one day do. I looked at it more as a theatre student than as something I might get a chance to do.”
In Salt-Water Moon, the year is 1926. The young are abandoning the villages of Newfoundland for a new life in the big city. But 18-year-old Jacob Mercer has returned from Toronto to Coley’s Point (where French, who died in 2010, was born in 1939) to win back his former sweetheart, Mary Snow (played by Vancouver-raised Mayko Nguyen). The former lovers confront their past choices and contemplate a possible future together.
“At first glance, the character (Jacob) is extremely charming and vivacious, and has this incredible trust that everything will work out,” Ada said.
But, says the actor, as the play progresses, we see how much the character has been affected by the First World War.
“His father fought in the great war, and you see the toll it took on him, and on Jacob,” he said. “The reason I can relate to the role is that I’m a child of war myself.”
Ada was born in Kabul. He fled Afghanistan with his family during the Soviet invasion.
“I know the toll that war took on my parents, and the sacrifices they made because of it.”
Director Ravi Jain, founding director of Toronto’s Why Not Theatre, originally mounted Salt-Water Moon two years ago for Factory Theatre’s 2015-16 Naked Season: Canadian Classics Reimagined.
Jain’s bare bones version features Ada and Nguyen, some candles, and musician Ania Soul, a Toronto singer who performs songs and recites French’s stage directions.
“Because we chose not to do accents, and to not have a big realistic set, because we chose to break this play open and do it in a very simple manner with two lovers in and among the stars, we wanted to make sure that we had major elements of Newfoundland culture in the play,” Ada said.
“Ania represents the storytelling nature of Newfoundland culture, and how integral music is to it. That, to me, really lifts the play, and represents the cultural foundation of the piece.”
Salt-Water Moon isn’t the first time Ada and Nguyen have shared a stage.
“We’ve played lovers before,” he said.
“I’ve said this for years, and I will continue to say it: it’s so easy to fall in love with Mayko. She’s one of the most gifted actors I’ve ever worked with.”
Asked if there any other Canadian classics he’d like to take on, Ada names two: Colleen Wagner’s The Monument (1995) and Anne Chislett’s Quiet in the Land (1981).
“Those are the kinds of plays I never thought I would have a chance to do,” said the actor, who can be heard in the Afghanistan-set, Academy Award-nominated animated feature The Breadwinner (produced by Angelina Jolie).
“But it’s time right now to take ownership of our collective history. Part of that history is our classic plays, whether or not they were written for actors of colour.”
Kawa Ada and Mayko Nguyen star in a bare bones revival of David French’s 1985 play, Salt-Water Moon.