“Scorched” takes poetic and powerful approach to burning issues

Last night I was fortunate to have the chance to see the new play, “Scorched”, at the Waterfront Theatre. Ironically, it was due to a critique of theatre posters in general, wherein I happened to use their poster as an example of one of my points, that led in a roundabout way to me being invited to attend! (See the whole story on Rebecca Coleman’s Art of the Biz site, or my original “The Trouble with Theatre Posters” blog post.) Now, not only am I in no way a theatre reviewer, but what shows I do attend tend to be one of three types: musicals, comedies, and musical comedies. Straight dramas, particularly one such as this which is described with phrases like “loss and emptiness” and “legacy of suffering” clearly don’t promise giddy laughs or toe-tapping melodies. And yet, by the time the lights went up, I was completely riveted. It was a powerful and memorable experience. I did have my reservations in the early part of the show. The characters often speak in a somewhat elevated, poetic manner which, while beautiful and evocative, tended to keep me at arm’s length from them as characters for a little while. But as the story progressed, and the bits and pieces of the plot, and the mystery, came slowly into focus, my interest was always held. And almost despite myself, I began to get drawn steadily into the story until I was fully engaged. And where I wrongly anticipated that the mystery would have an ambiguous conclusion, things instead took a surprising and stunningly powerful turn, so that by the end my head was spinning with the profound and disturbing, yet unforgettably powerful, revelations. “Scorched” is at its heart two parallel stories: a young brother and sister are attending the reading of their late mother’s will. She has passed away after five years without speaking, something that started one day as she was attending a tribunal for a war criminal from her home country. There seems to be no connection, though, to those events and her mysterious silence. The instructions given in her will – to bring sealed letters to their brother, who they didn’t know existed, and their father, who they have believed to be dead – deepen the mystery. The brother, angry and dismissive, rejects the quest, but the sister does not, and as she pursues the truth, the parallel story – of their mother’s early life of suffering, a lost baby, and traumatizing experience of war, and her surprising journey with “the woman who sings” – emerges. The culmination is unexpected and has a profound effect on everyone involved. “Scorched” speaks to the terrible and seemingly unstoppable cycle of violence and retribution that are the source of so much conflict and suffering in the world. To that end, it doesn’t name a specific country as the location for the play’s events, and the actors, though clearly (through names and dress) referencing a Middle Eastern setting, are, or at least appear, Western and “white” (though this is of course a fluid and tricky thing to categorize by appearance). But this only emphasizes the universality of its themes. The play can be performed by actors of any ethnicity or colour and maintain its impact. While the need for – and the difficulty of – ending age-old blood feuds is a perennial truism, “Scorched” explores this fact with a lot of depth. And while I sometimes had an issue with the heightened and poetic tone, it is almost a necessary counter to the brutal violence that is portrayed and implied at several points. And along the way, “Scorched” touches on the power of words and language – the power of reading, writing and thinking as a means of survival and of hope. In the end, the stunning revelations challenge even the most “irredeemable” of the characters to move beyond their old patterns of thinking. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Casey Austin riveting as Nawal, the mother and heroine of the tale, seen in flashback throughout the story, and the rest of the cast nimbly portraying multiple roles (Evan Roberts takes the prize here with six different characters!). Paddy Crawford hits just the right note, with a light touch much welcome amidst the gloom, as Alphonse, the notary who is charged with fulfilling Nawal’s dying wishes. And he brings much of what humour there is to the proceedings with his constant malapropisms like “between the Devil and the Blue Danube” or “that’s a fly in the appointment”! So, while there were no musical numbers and only a sprinkling of (mostly dark) humour, “Scorched” was an experience I’m glad to have had. If you see it – and I recommend you do – I think you’ll agree. Visit the Theatre Inconnu website for more info, and order tickets here.

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