Rarely after seeing a show am I unable to describe it or write a clear encapsulation when I begin writing the review. Scorched is one of these shows.
The horrors of war, civil upheaval and terrorism are vividly dramatized in the story that moves fluidly between geographical locations and time periods decades apart. When a mysterious woman of Middle Eastern descent, presently living in Canada dies, her embittered and unhappy children are sent on an odyssey of discovery and identity that often asks more questions than it answers. Twins Janine, (Soraya Broukhim) a PHD candidate in Math, and brother Simon (Dorien Makholgohi), an amateur boxer, resent their mother because she hasn’t spoken to them or anyone in five years. This hatred, especially on Simon’s part, is fueled by the cryptic instructions of their mother Nawal’s will. (Nawal is played by two actresses in the play: Nadine Malouf and Socorro Santiago.) The will’s instructions include the delivery of two letters, to the twins’ unknown brother and father, both lost and unheard of before their mother’s death.
Almost immediately Janine is intrigued by the letters and realizes that there must be something about the missing brother and father’s identities that will empower her and answer questions about her own identity. She jeopardizes her academic career to go on a quest for her lost relatives, which leads to a journey of discovery and harsh truths about her mother and the legacy of war and violence that has shaped her life. Her brother Simon wants no part of his twin sister’s quest at first but as more of their familial secrets are revealed and because his sister practically begs him, he too goes on the dark revelatory journey that eventually leaves them stupefied and raw.
Playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched (translated by Linda Gaboriau) is a challenging mosaic of vivid scenes stunningly presented by director Marcela Lorca. At times it is difficult to follow the storyline and the play relies too often on clunky back story especially when the letters are finally read out loud in a stilted manner. But even though I didn’t like this at all and felt it stopped the play dead, it was obviously a stylistic approach by Lorca, a Brechtian touch used effectively in political theater.
As always Syracuse Stage’s artistic and technical work is impressive and outstanding. Of particular note is this fluid, multi-media, moveable, representative set by the very talented John Arnone. The lightning design by Christopher Akerlind and the sound design by Jonathan R. Herrer are stunning and inspirational. I was also impressed by the multi-ethnic phenomenally talented cast. It is so refreshing to see diversity and talent of this magnitude on the stage.
It is difficult to draw a specific conclusion about Scorched. There are times when I felt confused, frustrated and annoyed with the piece, but there were other times that I felt awed, intensely intrigued and greatly moved. It is the type of play that stays with you and has resonance and more meaning after you leave the theater. Because it does this, then I have to concede it has succeeded on many levels. Chances are you won’t have seen anything like it, especially in Central or Northern New York. If you do go, free your mind and heart and don’t focus too much on results and answers, just enjoy the ride.
Saturday, December 10, 2016, Watertown, NY