Salt Baby, playing as part of the Next Stage Festival, is a story inspired by playwright Falen Johnson’s own experiences as a young First Nations person who looks white. The main character in the play, given no name other than “Salt Baby” (played by Paula Jean Prudat), has left her home on the Six Nations reservation to live in the city and has started dating a Caucasian man. She feels these things pulling her away from her heritage and desperately wants to stay tied to her ancestry. She is so desperate that she takes advice from quacks, risks alienating her father, and sets her relationship on fire.
I found it very moving. While some of the ancillary characters were caricatures, Salt Baby’s boyfriend Al, her father, and the ghost of her grandfather are all sincere and likable people with good senses of humour. Salt Baby herself is a gigantic mess, but I found her very relatable. Even without racially-oriented identity crises, being a woman in your early twenties, on your own in the big city for the first time and trying to figure out what your life looks like – in my experience all of that can be very messy.
Every time Salt Baby did or said something that was unintentionally destructive my heart went out to her. She was hurting the people she loved in attempting to find or create who she was, and I know that be a true thing.
The minor characters were written to be comedic, but I was often put off by the female ones being played for laughs as “a man in a dress.” Putting a man in a wig and having him simper a bit is not funny, not in 2012. There were six minor characters, three of each gender, all played by one man. It would have been simple enough to have him play the male three and cast a female actor to play the other three. Or, it is also possible for a skilled actor to play roles of differing genders without resorting to cartoonish buffoonery. Either way, the comedy of the dialogue would have been more effective if it wasn’t masked behind all the limp wrists and falsettos.
Despite those missteps, this is a show I would highly recommend: or rather, I hope they remount it with gender-appropriate casting/characterization. I suspect that without the distracting element of cheap facsimiles of women occasionally mincing around the stage, I might be moved to tears.
- All Next Stage Theatre Festival performances are being held at Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets for all shows are $15 for Evening Performances (7:00PM and after start time), $12 for Afternoon Performances (6:59 or before start time) and $10 for Ante-chamber performances
- Showtimes and ticket information for Salt Baby are available at fringetoronto.com/next-stage-festival/
Photo of Paula-Jean Prudat by Jacklyn Atlas