Scorched: A wrenching, poetic spin on Greek drama / by R. Sheth

October 10, 2010
By Kris Vire

Mouawad’s sprawling, challenging play begins with a postmortem: A charmingly devoted notary reads the contents of an immigrant woman’s will to her resentful twin son and daughter. Nawal’s will includes two sealed letters and a final wish for her children: Janine (Lacy Katherine Campbell) is to deliver one letter to the father they thought was deceased, and Simon (Nick Cimino) the other to a brother they never knew they had.

Mouawad pointedly avoids naming Nawal’s homeland, though the details given suggest it’s the Lebanese-born Quebecois playwright’s own. But Mouawad’s point has little to do with the specific politics of Lebanon’s decades of mass conflicts; he’s interested instead in the tragic poetics of any such war-torn land, where the layers of retaliation run so deep that no one recalls anymore why they fight.

The playwright skips back and forth between Janine and Simon’s quests and flashbacks showing the secret history of Nawal (masterfully played at different ages by Rinska M. Carrasco, Carolyn Hoerdemann and Diana Simonzadeh), who turns out to have kept much from her children. Director Heinen, with artful help from lighting designer Sarah Hughey, keeps these transitions seamless. Scorched feels slightly overstuffed at three long hours; Mouawad digresses too often, and some plot flourishes feel egregious. But his poetic flourishes (rendered from the French by prolific translator Linda Gaboriau) are compelling, and his themes build to a climax that’s gut-wrenching—even to those paying attention to his Greek allusions.