Say Ginger Ale, a new play by Marcia Johnson that played at the Factory Theatre Studio as part of the 2010 SummerWorks Festival, is an examination of the defining power of our homeland, and our ancestors, and how they can continue to shape us even after we have adjusted to a radically different life of our own choosing.
Nadia moved to Canada from Jamaica when she was six years old and she considers herself to be, for all intents and purposes, a well adjusted Canadian citizen; indentifying herself strongly not only with the geographical aspects of her home, but embracing its language, culture and heritage as well. Despite the fact that her mother, Daphne, continues to revisit their past, and Nadia’s grandmother who still lives in Jamaica, Nadia shows little interest in the country of her birth and relies on her grandmother’s annual visits to Canada as the foundation for their relationship. When a first date with a cute lawyer, Cornell, goes astray after he judges her on her lack of connection to her Jamaican roots, coupled with her grandmother becoming ill Nadia is forced to confront the past she has spent the last two decades escaping.
Johnson’s script is a sweet and sentimental one, with an ending so cute, it almost hurts, and a lot of the characters and their relationships with one another are well fleshed out. I think that there is a lot of potential for this script to be developed further and possibly to be pushed into more dramatic territory. For example, the stakes surrounding the grandmother’s illness don’t seem high enough to create the sustaining tension that I think this play needs and I think it could benefit from more definitive action happening while Nadia is in Jamaica. Something monumental should cause her to connect emotionally to this world with profound repercussions for the way she lives her life in Canada upon her return. There is also a somewhat problematic relationship between Nadia and Cornell, for, despite being portrayed by the effortlessly charming Andrew Moodie, Cornell is not a very likable character. He is arrogant and rude, judgemental and completely berates Nadia, who he barely knows, within moments of meeting her. It would be interesting to see further development of Cornell throughout this piece as well, because the way Johnson has structured the play, the audience is meant to root for their ultimate union, and in the present state, it is difficult to not want someone with more warmth and empathy for the charming, intelligent and caring Nadia. There are also some flat jokes and Canadian cultural clichés that could be weeded out.
The performances in this piece really do give the writing some of its much needed spark. Ordena gives a delightful performance as Nadia, Andrew Moodie makes Cornell as attractive as possible, and Raven Dauda steals the show with her hilariously fierce and beautifully compelling portrayal of Grandma. Dauda is pure comic gold in this show, in both her guttural, stubbornly dismissive vocal intonations and her incredibly expressive face.
Say Ginger Ale has a great deal of heart, and I think with a little bit of dramatic edge, Johnson could make it a play that really pops.