Salt Water Moon by David French

Guild Theatre Festival

Raph Nogal Photography

Joe Szekeres

A beautiful August summer evening sets the stage for a most splendid production of David French’s iconic Canadian classic script of the Mercer family which introduces the early lives of parents Jacob and Mary.

I’ve seen this play several times before, but this is the first I’ve experienced ‘Salt-Water Moon’ in an outdoor setting.

And what a wise choice Director Helen Juvonen made as the Guild’s production is utterly charming to watch as two charismatic and engaging artists create very real, flesh and blood people before my eyes while handling the intricate Newfoundland dialect and speech patterns crisply and with tremendous grace and dignity. A shout out of recognition to Dialect Coach Leah Holder for ensuring authenticity to my ear.

The setting is 1926 in Coley’s Point, rural Newfoundland. It is a moonlit night (just like the performance I attended) in September in front of a late 19th century home. Seventeen-year-old Mary Snow (Sarah Gibbons) is waiting for her fiancé, Jerome, to come visit her after Bob Foote's wake, and she is looking through a telescope at the moon and stars to pass the time. A voice is heard in the distance and Jacob Mercer (Alex Furber), six months older than Mary, and her former beau, appears. Mary is taken aback to see Jacob who left Newfoundland abruptly for Toronto a year before to seek his fortune. Mary and Jacob spend the evening making small talk, stargazing, arguing, and discussing the past, including Jacob's sudden departure.

There is a simple set design which works very well in this case as the primary focus remains on the tip-top performances of Sarah Gibbons and Alex Furber. There are three entrances to the playing space. Centre stage and stage left are several lanterns with tea lights that glowed as the sun set and the evening approached. Just off-centre stage right and angled slightly is a wooden rocking chair. At stage right is a trellis of leaves with small white lights attached. Sarah is dressed attractively in a yellow dress and Alex looks dashing in a light grey pin striped suit with a deep blue tie nicely contrasted with a white dress shirt.
In her Programme Note, Ms. Juvonen writes how envisioning ‘Moon’ has become an homage to the place she calls home and to celebrate her maternal family. Her profound respect for the play and maintaining consistent verisimilitude certainly came clear to me in some of the minute details she emphasizes in the 90-minute production.

One example of this occurs in the convincing performances of Gibbons and Furber. ‘Salt-Water Moon’ is heavily dialogue driven, and these two actors continuously listen carefully to each other’s words and their meaning and respond so believably and realistically on an emotional level that I periodically put down my pen from making notes in my book and just wanted to watch them move with clear intent and purpose all the time.

I especially relished the moment as Mary calls Jacob over to point out something in the sky with the stars and constellations. I got caught up in the moment to the point where I had to restrain myself from physically turning around in my chair and look to the sky to see where the actors were pointing. Every inch of the playing space on that stage is used to its fullest and I especially enjoyed watching how the ‘who has the power in the moment’ volley back and forth between the two.

Alex Furber’s Jacob is confidant, cocky and, at times, self-assured who remains intent on trying to win back the heart of the girl whom he left the year before. I loved watching how he skillfully utilized a playful and genuine smirk on his face at times to acknowledge that he is doing his best to win back Mary’s trust and love. Sarah Gibbons is a feisty and ‘fire in the spirit’ Mary (as she is described in the text at one point) who obviously is not a push over emotionally as Jacob comes to recognize as the plot progresses. I saw just how Mary can poke at Jacob’s soft side to remind him that what he did was wrong. Gibbons knows and senses inherently just how and when to utilize playwright French’s words to fire back emotionally at the beloved beau who left her suddenly the year before.

Final Comments: There was something magical about watching a live performance outdoors. The term ‘Theatre under the Stars’ took on a new meaning for me in this delightful production of a captivating ‘Salt-Water Moon’.

Get tickets for this one. A wonderful evening spent at the theatre.

‘Salt-Water Moon’ continues to August 15 at the Greek Theatre in the Guild Park and Gardens, 201 Guildwood Parkway, Toronto. For tickets and information, please visit www.guildfestivaltheatre.ca.

‘SALT-WATER MOON’ by David French
Production Staged by Guild Festival Theatre, Tenth Anniversary Season
Directed by Helen Juvonen
Production Designer Simon Flint
Design Mentor Nancy Anne Perrin
Dialect Coach Leah Holder.

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