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Salt-Water Moon

Review by Sean McQuaid 

Adding charm and historic heft to this summer's Kings Playhouse slate, Salt-Water Moon is a sweet slice of retro romance wrapped in Newfoundland lore. Written by Canadian playwright David French in 1984, the award-winning Moon was a "prequel" companion to French's 1972 hit Leaving Home and its assorted follow-ups from 1973, 1988 and 2001. All five plays feature the fictional Mercer clan of Newfoundland in what French called "emotionally autobiographical" tales inspired by his own family background. 

Set in the small Newfoundland outport of Coley’s Point in 1926, the oft-produced one-act Salt-Water Moon features 18-year-old Jacob Mercer (Fraser McCallum) returning home from Toronto to court his estranged ex-sweetheart Mary Snow (Marli Trecartin), now engaged to another man. Sparks fly as the former couple discuss their defunct relationship and their respective troubled family backgrounds' bearing on same. 

Much of that background hinges on World War I, their parents being among the many Newfoundlanders slain or traumatized by that conflict. A topic explored in multiple Mercer plays, it's often compelling stuff -- though French's incorporation of this thread doesn't always feel wholly organic here. Jacob's wartime thoughts in particular feel a bit shoehorned in by times, however intense or insightful they might be. 

Moon is first and foremost a love story, though, and in that capacity it delivers. Jacob and Mary are largely likeable, entertaining characters who clearly like each other however much they deny it, and their oft-amusing, sometime touching interplay is what gives this two-hander its humour and heart. 

Director Melissa Mullen keeps the play moving at a pleasantly leisurely pace, and some of the most affecting moments are in pauses and silences such as those near the beginning and the end of the play, both well-executed by the actors. 

Rougher patches tend to fall within the monologues. Some work well, such as Trecartin's sad account of Mary's sister Dot's fate or McCallum's gleeful reenactment of a devilish prank, but there's a plodding sameness to some of the longer bits where there's too little variation in pacing or feeling for long stretches. 

One or two of McCallum's angrier extended speeches fall into this trap, for instance, where there's so few shifts in timing or tone within them that they start to sound a bit like recitation despite their intensity. He fares better in lighter sequences like Jacob's lengthy Tom Mix film anecdote, organically timed and executed with such infectiously colourful enthusiasm by McCallum that the material really pops. 

If Trecartin seems a tad stiff or uncertain on occasion, that may stem at least partly from her character's motivation — Mary spends much of the play either trying to decide how she feels about Jacob or trying to hide it or both — but overall, she and McCallum have an appealing chemistry together whether trading barbs or pitching woo. 

Randall Fletcher's front porch set provides a credible, functional location for the proceedings, though a screen-projected backdrop of the titular moon is more problematic. There seems to be a slight screen rolling glitch by times, not to mention a pesky software update notification popping up briefly the night I attended. 

Fleeting glitches like that, however, do little to obscure Salt-Water Moon's enduring glow. Ably enacted by Mullen's players, French's poignantly comedic script continues to shine. 

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