Nathan Howe and Dakota Ray Herbert star as Alligator and Salt Baby in the new Belfry Theatre play named for the lead female character. Courtesy Belfry Theatre

REVIEW: Salt Baby’s search for identity begins at the Belfry

New stage show has plenty of story to work with, but the characters sometimes get lost in the mix

By Sheila Martindale

Monday Magazine contributor

Identity crises are not unusual. There are migrants and refugees, with a foot in each of two camps, not really belonging to either. There are foreign-service workers, moving around the globe and never feeling fully comfortable anywhere.

In Salt Baby, the new show at The Belfry Theatre, we have a young aboriginal woman who appears white (hence the ‘salt’) and yet clings to her native heritage, wishing she were browner. Her relationship with a white man is influenced by the search for her real identity, and her foray into Internet dating, which specifies ethnic origins, turns out to be unsatisfying, if not disastrous.

Dakota Ray Herbert captures the spirit of this feisty young woman in all her different moods. We applaud her sense of humour and are delighted by her charm. But we do get a little weary of her obsession, as does her live-in partner, who goes by the odd name of Alligator. Nathan Howe is well cast as this likeable character. The interesting role of Salt Baby’s father is undertaken by Timothy Hill, who does the jokester rather well.

I suppose the gold star for versatility goes to Colin Dingwall, who plays the deceased grandfather, as well as a variety of other oddball characters, each one more bizarre than the last and portrayed totally over the top. He also gets the prize for being a quick-change artist.

Apart from the real muddle of who is who, since no one is really addressed by name on stage, and the programme is not very much help, the fault of this play lies in the fact that it tries too hard. And it does not really make us care about the people it showcases. If we don’t identify with at least one person, we can’t get behind the action. Salt Baby herself is the most sympathetic character, but even she can be tiresome at times.

Having said that, Tamara Marie Kucheran deserves kudos for an interesting and functional set, with its Ikea-like furnishings. The actors spend a lot of time moving hollow boxes about, which makes for significant choreography. Some of the sound effects are overpowering, and I’m pretty sure they make a point.

Salt Baby is an addition to the opus of First Nations writing, aimed at highlighting the value and importance of Indigenous culture, and we need to recognize that. But playwright and director Falen Johnson could take a tip from Drew Hayden Taylor, a mixed Ojibway and Caucasian playwright and author, who mused in a Globe and Mail essay: “Fighting over status/non-status, Métis, skin colour etc., only increases the sense of dysfunction in our community.”

editor@mondaymag.com

Belfry Theatre

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Vancouver Island dance classes billed as female empowerment tool

New Comox Valley business focuses on ‘promoting positive body image’

Duncan’s Big Stick lights up red to signal COVID’s devastation of the arts

“COVID-19 has been truly devastating to the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre”

Chorus expands online options to in-person rehearsal in Langford, Oak Bay

Free, non-auditioned SingYourJoy recruits those aged 16 to 29

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Bucket list: Mid-Island set to come alive with special drumming

Pair of programs scheduled to take place starting October

Cowichan Performing Arts Centre streaming new short film tonight

Standing By has been created and performed by Cowichan-raised actor Nicole Ratjen.

Voting now ready for Oak Bay’s Arts Alive 2020 sculptures

Audio and written descriptions posted for all 10 sculptures

Snuneymuxw artist brings aquatic designs to Nanaimo’s Beban Park pool

Work by artist Eliot White-Hill is being installed at the pool this month

Nanaimo musician plays all instruments on DIY debut album

Jamie Penner releasing guitar-centric instrumental record ‘Out of Curiosity’

Hospice worker and patient butt heads in upcoming Nanaimo theatre production

Yellow Point Drama Group presents ‘Grace and Glorie’ at Cedar Community Hall

Most Read