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.

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