Siblings' trip to Middle East has all the force of Greek tragedy (★★★ 1/2) / by R. Sheth

October 15, 2010
By Chris Jones

To feel the slow-burning heat of the latest drama at the Silk Road Theatre Project requires some patience. This Sophoclean story — and I use that term in the very fullest sense of its tragic meaning — builds very slowly as its central characters, a pair of ill-fated modern-day twins with Middle Eastern origins, try to discover who they are, and from whence they came.

Shrewdly oblique, the Lebanese-born, Quebec-based playwright Wajdi Mouawad never exactly says if we are watching a play set in war-torn Iraq, war-torn Afghanistan or war-torn Lebanon (where the author was a refugee). Regardless, it is not pretty. There is poverty, desperation, an ill-educated populace and restless young men with cameras, headphones and guns. It is an especially dangerous place to be a woman.

But by the throbbing end of what is truly a magnificent, must-see piece, you're most assuredly “Scorched.”

Mouawad's intricately plotted play is far longer than anything by Sophocles (it's a 2 hour, 45 minute marathon). And I wouldn't say that Dale Heinen's courageously acted and visually sophisticated production entirely captures the necessary heart-quickening pace as the twins' journey wends its way inexorably forward. Not entirely.

But by the time you go and see this — say, tonight — I hope the actors will have figured out they need to give transitions more bite, race that bit further on their characters' quest and descend deeper into communal, personal agony. But I'm just going to assume that will be the case.

On Thursday night, everything necessary was there. Someone just has to light a faster fuse.

For Scorched is that rare play that truly manages to convey the spirit of Greek tragedy in a contemporary setting. That's exceedingly hard to achieve. Theaters are littered with pretentious failures — the lean and incendiary emotions of what Aristotle called complex classical tragedy invariably jar with the more trivial feelings that pass for disasters in our modern-day dramatic worlds.

But not here. Here, that Sophoclean sense of everything coming together, that paradoxical enigma of how the harder and harder you try to climb out of the muck, the deeper and deeper you sink in the swamp. All that somehow feels logical in this world, where your childhood gets stuck in your throat for life. I kept thinking about the kids of Iraq and their memories, and where those memories will eventually land.

The less you know about the plot the better but events begin with a dead mother who has left some last requests designed to help her grown kids learn the truth about their origins. And thus the actor Nick Cimino and the deeply empathetic Lacy Katherine Campbell, aided by Fredric Stone doing some of his best work, go back inside their mother's life. That mother, whose name is Niwal, is played by three different women — Rinska M. Carrasco, Carolyn Hoerdemann and, most movingly, Diana Simonzadeh, who'll get you right where you're lucky to live.

Scorched” was very recently made into a film — it was well reviewed at the recent Toronto Film Festival. I'm sure that the tension of this detective story is sharper on screen. But the theatrical achievement here is formidable indeed.