‘Scorched’ a slow burn

Gordon Jones
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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.

Geographic location: Montreal, Israel, West Bank Rome Beothuck Street

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  • Susan
    February 04, 2011 - 13:31

    (no spoilers) A powerful gripping play that brings the pieces together in the end starts at 8 & (ran til 11:15pm on Thurs) w intermission ~ 9:25. Good idea to sit up front to hear better (row D & E are good seats & you will get a better sense of the play from there –esp w the youngest Nawal who is not always easy to hear due to the emotion in her voice. Breathe easy - you don’t have to pay too much attention to the monks throughout or the non-key characters in the refugee camp or to focus too much on the foreigness of culture in this unnamed land in the grips of conflict (probably based on the author’s native Land Lebanon). Yes, the overall customs & cultural rules are impt – but those are made very evident. It is really about the impact of war & could be anywhere – the current situation in Egypt gives you pause for thought – this could happen anywhere. The key characters & story lines are pretty evident. Esp appreciated the performances of Jill Kennedy as Janine, Darrel Brenton as Simon (the twins), Janet Evans & Patricia Andrews as the middle aged & older Nahwal, Brian Mandville as Antoione & towards the end: Doug Boyce as Fahim, Jerry Dolye as Malak & Todd Perry as Mihad. Good to know that there are 2 actresses playing Sawda (Janine’s friend): Natalie Kalata (1st I guess) & Jamille Rivera – since this could be confusing – even though they call her Sawda. It is smart – even though it is very long. I think Todd Perry’s statement from the program is spot on “a story (that) deeply explores with seriousness & understanding the actions of humanity during very inhumane times”. When you go, look at this from the perspective of the main characters Janine, Simon, Nawal, . . . – look at what happens as Janine & Simon are uncovering answers to a mystery that their mother Nawal could not tell them about – how this changes their opinions & how this is ultimately optimistic in the end – in spite of whatever happened or happens. Well deserved standing ovation on Thurs. If you like a thoughtful story on the human condition & want to admire how actors portray this over a long play - this is the show for you. Thank you Beothuck Street Players.