Translated by Linda Gaborau
Directed by Dale Heinen
At Silk Road Theatre Project, Chicago
Contrived storyline mares heart-wrenching drama of love-hate past and present in war-torn Middle East
French Canadian and Lebanese transplant Wajda Mouawad’s Scorched is a powerful, soul-searching drama that spans fifty years in the life of a Lebanese family torn apart by the horrors of civil war in their ‘unnamed Middle Eastern country (probably Lebanon). The work alludes to Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex that holds the folly of revenge and cycles of violence in great detail.
Moving back and forth in time, Scorched somehow never mentions the single most dominant aspect motivating the civil war in the Middle East- religious hatred. Religious militias – Christian, Shi’a, Sunni, Druze and Maronite as well as sectarian groups of Palestinians, pro-Israeli and pro-Syrian militias fought each other over control of the country for decades. Ethnic and religious hatred is amazingly not recognized. Why? Without that context, the people of this country seem like ruthless barbarians.
The story starts out in Quebec where Mr. Lebel (Fredric Stone) summons Simon (Nick Cimino) and his twin sister Janine (Lacy Katherine Campbell) for the reading of the will of their departed mother, Nawal (Diana Simonzadeh). Simon hated his mother and fought complying with her strange burial requests. Janine remained silent yet after the burial – for no discernible reason – she quits her PhD and math teaching quest and suddenly becomes obsessed with listening to her mother’s cassette tapes recorded by her nurse during her last years.
The story move back in time as we see how Nawal left her rural village where women ever learned to read after having a child out of wedlock but out of love. Nawal teams up with another woman from her village, Swada (Fawzia Mirza) as they wonder throughout the country in search of Nawal’s now 4 year old boy. They witness the horrors of civil war and religious and ethnic cleansing. They become combatants.
Back to the present in Quebec, Simon refuses to care about his mother since he is fixated with boxing but Janine hears her mother say “There is nothing more beautiful than being together.” Somehow, that sends Janine to the Middle East in search of her father as she is determined to fulfill the delivery of her mother’s letter to him. Simon still refuses to deliver his mother’s second letter to the twins lost brother.
Back to the civil war years as we meet a psycho sniper, Nihad (Adam Poss) who plays rock music and photographs his kills after shooting them. It seems that, again for no reason, Nihad quits his killing sport to run a prison where he loves to rape and torture women. When he meets prisoner 72 – “the woman who sings,” he keeps her alive but tortures and rapes her. When she is ready to deliver her ‘hate’ child, the sibling is sent to be dumped into river but the jailer who gives the bucket containing the child to a shepherd.
Janine finally gets Simon to join her search and what they find out about their father, mother and brother defies credulity begging the question: why would any mother want to ruin the lives of their children by getting them to find out the vile secrets of their past? What possible gain or enrichment could Janine and Simon get from learning about the past acts of their relatives? See this play for more details.
Playwright Mouawad puts a face on the horrors of war but his story lacks enough motivation to justify much of the action of the key characters. Was the mother playing a cruel joke on her siblings or did she actually believe good could come from revealing the family’s past? We certainly need to know what happened and by whom – but – do Janine and Simon need to know? Their lives could be ruined by finding out the family secrets. If your grandfather was a Nazi guard who killed and tortured Jews in the camps, would you want to know?
As theatre, Scorched contains several strong performances. Diana Simonzadeh as Old Nawal, Fredric Stone as Lebel and Justin James Farley in several roles were particularly effective. Scorched is well acted yet it is a tad too long especially act one where it takes too long to get going. Scorched is worth the journey if you can get past the thin and questionable motivations.
At Silk Road Theatre , Pierce Hall at the Historic Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St, Chicago, IL, tickets $34, www.srtp.org, call312-857-1234, Wednesday and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturdays at 8 pm, matinees on Saturday and Sundays at 4 pm, running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes with intermission.