Powerful play turns maudlin at times
Currently playing in St. John’s, “Scorched” is the translated handiwork of award-winning Lebanese-Canadian playwright, Wajdi Mouawad, who works out of Montreal. The piece has been produced internationally and has recently been turned into a film, “Incendies.”
Shuttling between an unnamed Canadian city and an unspecified Middle-Eastern country, “Scorched” opens with the last will and testament of Nawal Marwan, in which, as well as stipulating unorthodox burial conditions, she enjoins her twin son and daughter to deliver sealed letters to the brother they did not know they had and to the father they believed to be dead.
As the siblings’ quest unfolds in the present, the backstory, which is the main story, is episodically played out. In a country riven by civil war and mired in atrocities, their young mother searches for the son who was taken from her at birth.
Past and present finally converge on the shocking revelation that is the outcome of a powerful play — but a play which verges at times on the melodramatic and which closes with more than a touch of maudlin sermonizing.
Backed by a starkly minimalist set resembling the kind of concrete barriers that separate Israel from the West Bank, scenic changes are effected by means of varied projected images. Action and dialogue are overlapped on occasion.
Lighting and soundscape are evocative. And, complementing the principals, is a chorus of five monks in brown habits and cowls, who witness the action, sometimes echoing and amplifying dialogue, as they gather to watch or pass silently over the stage — a tip of the hat to the Chorus of Greek tragedy.
The sole light-hearted element in “Scorched” is Alphonse Lebel, played by Michael Chiasson, a fussy, good-natured notary, prone to mangling his proverbs (“between the devil and the Blue Danube,” “Rome wasn’t built in the middle of the day”). But it is he, as executor of the will, who urges the reluctant siblings (Jill Kennedy and Darrell Brenton) to comply with their mother’s wishes.
" 'Scorched' is a passionate and intense work, characterized by language that is vivid, sometimes harrowing, sometimes lyrical, even as it describes insane violence and pointless death." Gordon Jones
The living Nawal at different ages is played successively by Mallory Fisher, Janet Edmonds and Patricia Andrews, while Natalie Kalata and Jamille Rivera split the role of Nawal’s best friend, Sawda. Nawal’s adolescent sweetheart is Joshua Druken, while Todd Perry is the absent father.
“Scorched” is a passionate and intense work, characterized by language that is vivid, sometimes harrowing, sometimes lyrical, even as it describes insane violence and pointless death.
But it is also the case that this much-applauded play unfolds in a very leisurely fashion, which is accentuated by deliberate pacing and formalistic presentation. And the work is highly verbose in the bargain. Do these characters ever stop talking and remembering? Eventually.
A large and experienced cast of 20 players is directed by Clar Doyle in the visually striking Beothuck Street Players’ production of Wajdi Mouawad’s “Scorched,” which continues on the main stage of the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre until Saturday, with the usual curtain time of
8 p.m. With a 20-minute intermission, the duration of the show is a little over three hours.
And the significance of the enigmatic English title? Scorched — by the truth.