(★★★ 1/2)
/ by R. Sheth

October 12, 2010
By Venus Zarris

My Dad was a Marine who served in the Pacific during WWII. He never told us more than anecdotal stories about his tour of duty. No matter how we asked him, he would never share anything other than easy to digest remembrances. Just recently I read a story in a Marine magazine detailing a hair-raising mission that my father was a part of. It was a horrifying story; horrifying to think of the danger that he put himself in and horrifying to think of the atrocious lengths that he had to go to in order to save the lives of other Marines. I am thankful that he sheltered us from this brutal reality when we were young.

Parents oftentimes spare their children from the most painful aspects of their lives. They carefully pick and choose what to disclose in order to create a picture of the world that children can handle. When war is involved, the editing room floor is normally more full of cuts than are left in the final picture. In Scorched, playwright Majdi Mouawad creates an intricate web of bitter misunderstanding and twisted mystery that unfolds as a sweeping story of emotional extremes.

A mother’s final wishes are delivered post-mortem to her adult children by a notary public, specifying how she would like to be buried and how her possessions are to be divided. She also asks them to deliver two letters; one to a brother that they never knew existed and one to a father that they thought was dead. Their journey to deliver these letters uncovers more than any adult should have to bear and clarifies the partial stories that they were told as children, as well as their mother’s emotional distance throughout their lives.

Through flashbacks we learn about this extraordinary woman. A hopeful and love struck young lady is abruptly forced to make a devastating choice. What follows is a life of searching through the literal battlefields of a country torn apart by the chaos of war.

So often when we think of the horrors of war, we think of the obvious; the battles and explosions, the power struggles, the dead and displaced described as only numbers. Mouawad transcends the politics and statistics to illustrate the exquisite humanity. Sadly, when talking of war the unimaginable inhumanity is also always part of the equation.

Silk Road Theatre Project delivers a spellbinding production of this complex script. For a story this detailed and a play this long to work, you must have a cast that is as fully engaged as it is engaging. Director Dale Heinen puts together a solid cast with a few performances that are nothing short of incredible.

The play opens with a lengthy monologue. This could make or break the audience’s commitment to the story and Fredric Stone draws us in with genial humor and honest warmth. His outstanding performances of multiple characters show tremendous range. Rinska M. Carrasco delivers the Young Nawal with exceptional skill. She displays a childlike naiveté that quickly matures into impressive fortitude. Diana Simonzadeh is breathtaking as Old Nawal, boldly traversing an emotional landscape that borders on asking too much of an actor. She brings a true grace to her performance that is enthralling.

Carolyn Hoerdemann, as Middle Nawal, and Fawzia Mirza, as Sawda, deliver the production’s most riveting and captivating work. They establish relationships with each other that are crucial for not only the back-story, but also for the emotional depth of the script. Together they reveal poignant profundity in the midst of murderous chaos. Their chemistry is honest and astounding. These are actors at the top of their craft, able to share the reality in perfect emotional synchronization. What could easily become melodrama is delivered as heartbreaking truth. I have seen them both deliver remarkable performances in other plays, always envisioning that they had so much more to offer than the scripts afforded them. Mouawad provides these astonishing actors with fascinating scenes that rise to their staggering potential. It is as serendipitous for them that they were cast in these parts as it is for the success of this exigent production.

The production values of Scorched are excellent. Tom Burch creates a stylized authenticity with his impressive scenic design. Dialect Coach Eva Breneman beautifully supports the uncanny rendering of Lebanese accents. Projection Designer Mike Tutaj stunningly enhances the conception of the show with haunting imagery.

Mouawad employs some peculiar contrivances to tell this difficult story. Still, his language is often lyrically lovely and the emotionally shocking journey reveals both the wicked and wonderful potentials of humanity. There is nothing simple about Scorched and Silk Road Theatre Project rises to the challenges of this daunting play to deliver a triumphant Chicago premiere.