Review: SALT BABY

by Lynn on September 24, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

Live and in person at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton, Ont. until Oct. 1, 2022.

www.theatreaquarius.org

Written by Falen Johnson

Directed by Cole Alvis

Set and costumes by Sean Mulcahy

Lighting by Bonnie Beecher

Composed by Christopher-Elizabeth and Tom Wilson

Sound by Sergey Kublanovsky

Cast: Aris Athanasopoulos

Nicole Joy-Fraser

Chanin Lee

Jeremy Proulx

From the program: “Salt Babyis a Six Nations woman, whose light skin sets her apart from her relatives, both on the rez and in the city. This play brings heart to the experience of being mixed blood and feeling “invisibly ethnic” while lampooning expectation of what it means to look Indigenous.”

Salt Baby (Chanin Lee) is dating Philip (Aris Athanasopoulos), a white man. He is curious about Salt Baby’s Indigeneity. She knows about three quarters of her background but not the last quarter. She has moved from the reserve to the city. Her Dad still lives on the reserve and she visits him frequently.

On one date at a bar Philip asks her questions to find out more about her and her culture. As Philip, Aris Athanasopoulos is respectful and gently inquisitive. He leans forward at the table giving her his whole attention, is present and totally focused on what Salt Baby is saying to him. As Salt Baby, Chanin Lee is accommodating with her answers and perhaps touched that he is curious. If I do have a concern, it’s that audibility is a bit spotty. Perhaps some subtle microphoning might be in order.

The relationship continues, deepens and Philip and Salt Baby move in with each other. In her search for more information about her background Salt Baby is encouraged to do a DNA test. She knows about her Mother’s side but not her Dad’s. He quietly declines to have the test. No reason is given, he just doesn’t want to do it.  Jeremy Proulx gives a loving and gentle performance as Salt Baby’s kind Dad. When he refuses it’s with quiet consideration and not irritation.  The Dad is not happy that Salt Baby is dating a white man, perhaps disappointed is the better word. He does not vent at all about this.                                                                                                              

There is also the wonderful Nicole Joy-Fraser who plays many parts including a kind of trickster elder who guides Salt Baby along. Joy-Fraser lends both humour and gravitas to the play.

Chanin Lee guides us calmly on Salt Baby’s journey of discovery. Not knowing who she really is and how she is made up gnaws at Salt Baby in a way that is always present. She feels that if she knows her various components it will give her a clearer idea of who she is. Her father says, gently that she does know who she is and a test won’t change that. I loved that philosophy.

Who are we? Where do we come from? What is our story? These are questions that apply to all of us. Indeed, when Artistic Director Mary Francis Moore greeted the audience from the stage she noted that director Cole Alvis said that she wanted the audience to think of how their own stories resonated with that of Salt Baby. Wonderful! Theatre presents stories from other cultures totally different from ours but we find resonance and applications to our own lives in those stories. That is the beauty of theatre; it illuminates our similarities and how close we are not our differences.

Cole Alvis directed the play with a gentle but confident hand. The set by Sean Mulcahy is vivid and compelling. Several large framed photos are suspended up stage. Many frames are empty. Linking all the frames together is a heavy chain. Brilliant. The empty frames are the holes in Salt Baby’s life, the missing people and bits. The notion of family is strongly linked by the chain, but those empty frames present a painful absence that Salt Baby wants to fill.  

Theatre Aquarius Presents:

Plays until: Oct. 1, 2022.

Running time: 90 minutes (no intermission)

www.theatreaquarius.org

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