October 11, 2010
By Hedy Weiss
All war is hell. But civil wars often turn into ferociously brutal, relentlessly perverse conflicts for the simple reason that the combatants know each other so intimately, understand the terms of humiliation so completely and have such a fiercely personal stake in the outcome. The border between love and hate in such situations is permeable. And rape often becomes a preferred mode of torture.
“Scorched,” now in a tremendously bold and ambitious production by the Silk Road Theatre Project, is Wajdi Mouawad’s searing meditation on the insanity of the civil war that raged in Lebanon from 1975 to 1990, and in many ways continues to plague that country. It also is a despairing cry against the seemingly endless cycle of atrocity and revenge — a cycle that grows increasingly grotesque and absurd with every punishing attack and counterattack.
Mouawad was born in Lebanon in 1968, fled with his family to France in 1977 to escape the fighting, eventually moved on to Montreal and now lives in France. He never fully names the country that is the backdrop for “Scorched” (in a vivid translation from the French by Linda Gaboriau). But many events along the way (as well as detailed program notes) identify it. Clearly the playwright also has looked to the ancient Greeks (who had no shortage of calamitous civil strife) and to Bertolt Brecht (playing a twist on “Mother Courage”).
The story begins as French-Canadian notary Alphonse Lebel (played to exquisite tragicomic effect by the peerless Fredric Stone) reads the will of Nawal (played from youth to old age by Rinska M. Carrasco, Carolyn Hoerdemann and Diana Simonzadeh), a mother of grown twins — Janine (Lacy Katherine Campbell), a brilliant mathematician, and Simon (Nick Cimino), a so-so boxer.
Though Lebel admired Nawal — who spent her final five years locked in silence — her children are filled with resentment at her lifelong detachment. The enigmatic revelations of her will only exacerbate the situation.
The truth will be revealed in many shocking ways as the story flashes back to the fateful moment in 1956 when an illiterate but passionate teenage Nawal is forced to abandon her love child. It is Nawal’s unyielding search for that child throughout the lengthy civil war that will transform her into both victim and killer, and a woman of indomitable strength.
Under the strong direction of Dale Heinen, the three actresses who portray Nawal — particularly the altogether riveting Simonzadeh — are superb, even if they are physically quite different. But it is the lean, young, snakily sexy Adam Poss as Nihad —a nihilistic sniper and camera-wielding pornographer of wartime violence — who gets to deliver the virtuosic rock ’n’ roll-infused monologue that stops the show and so shatteringly encapsulates the insane spiral of assault and retribution at work.
Justin James Farley, an actor of enormous range and skill, makes a formidable mark in several crucial roles. And Fawzi Mirza is affecting as Sawda, Nawal’s companion.
The play, which runs close to two hours and 45 minutes, could use some tightening. But Mouawad’s laserlike vision and heated language, combined with the actors’ prowess and the very handsome design work by Tom Burch, Sarah Hughey, Carol J. Blanchard, Peter J. Storms and Mike Tutaj, result in genuine “scorched earth” theater.