Grain of Salt, a new play from Ottawa’s Megan Piercey Monafu, begins with the question, “Is the church the root of all evil or all good?”
Like The Laramie Project, which was inspired by the hate-motivated murder of Matthew Shephard, Grain of Salt is a work of verbatim theatre; meaning it draws on the reactions of non-actors gleaned from interviews.
Gay issues were not front and centre as Grain of Salt’s creators began this process, says cast member Mitchel Rose, but they did arise, particularly the still-active debate over same-sex marriage.
“For me, the subject material is so far removed from my universe because I have no religious background at all. But I also agree that every perspective is valid. At the same time in this piece, there’s hate, and that’s when the line is drawn for me. That’s when we have to be very careful with how we’re approaching this because there is a lot of anger.”
Structurally, the play consists of vignettes informed by the interview material, narrated and tied together by a character called Missionary Megan. As the play opens she’s a teen, but years pass over the running time and her growth, physical and otherwise, provides Grain of Salt’s story arc.
“What the characters are saying is reflected in her; they’re a mirror for her,” Rose says. “As different points of view are presented, she’s able to contrast them with her points of view and then continue to grow.”
Cast member Lori Jean Hodge notes that the religious and spiritual beliefs of the cast are wide-ranging and that the process of developing the play has created the kind of discussion she hopes the upcoming performances will generate.
She characterizes Grain of Salt as a balanced and complex look at the large questions at its core. She also wrestled with points of view in it that are far removed from her own.“There’s no one perspective. You get a real range of responses to that question. I’m certainly on one side of the scale, for sure, of the issues. What’s interesting for me as an actor is learning to have an open mind about the other side of things . . . It’s a lot harder to speak the words of someone who’s the polar opposite to you.”
Rose says those other points of view had him questioning his own participation early on.
“When we did the first read of this, my immediate reaction was ‘I’m going to drop out of this project’ because I had a really emotional response to it.”
As the project has evolved through the rehearsal process, however, Rose says he’s begun to recognize that he has himself sometimes been unwilling to listen to other points of view. “Can we all just sort of chill out and relax? Leave each other alone and let our faith be our faith and their faith be their faith?
“That doesn’t mean let’s all go back to out separate rooms and never have a dialogue,” he adds. “If you’re never having a dialogue, nothing is moving forward.”
Grain of Salt will be performed in four separate venues over its run; three of the spaces are bar/restaurants. Hodge says she hopes the atypical environments will be conducive to post-performance discussions.
“I’m hopeful that people are coming because they do have an opinion about something. Hopefully, we’ll get a whole bunch of different opinions and it will at least come a little bit closer to the centre. That’s my goal. I think that’s the goal of everyone involved in this project.”