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Janick H?bert, Kelli Fox and Nicola Lipman as Nawal at 3 different ages. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Janick H?bert, Kelli Fox and Nicola Lipman as Nawal at 3 different ages. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

Theatre review: Scorched at the NAC in Ottawa

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The English language world premiere of Scorched runs at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through April 21. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

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SCORCHED by Lebanese/Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad and translated by Linda Gaboriau tells of the search by adult twins for the story of their mother's life.  After her death they are given letters to their father, who they thought was dead, and their brother, about whose existence they have never known.  It is a play about forgiveness and about breaking the cycle of rage and misunderstandings that scar human lives.

Although contemporary, the play has echoes of the French tradition of Racine and Corneille.  The structure is interspersed with monologues that are reminiscent of the classical French "tirade".  Although the translation is no doubt excellent, the monologues could use judicious editing in order to maintain the dramatic flow.

As I've come to expect from plays co-produced by Toronto's Tarragon Theatre, the quality of the directing and of the technical aspects is very high.  Graeme S. Thompson has designed a unit set with a floor of drifted sand and dun-colored rock walls.  A metal office desk and three chairs serve various purposes in the course of the action.  Mr. Thompson uses rectangular boxes of light to frame action and also an ingenious combination of projections with live actors that are both very effective.

The costumes designed by Teresa Przybylski, with the exception of the three contemporary characters, consist of layered desert robes and scarves.  These allow great flexibility in the playing of multiple and un-named characters.

Todd Charlton's sound design is clever and subtle.  The sound of the boxing match and the Act II opening music in which Director Richard Rose coordinates staged gun shots with the drums are especially fine.  He and Mr.Charlton have even included a sound check joke.

I should mention the excellent job Stage Manager Kathryn Westoll does of calling this complex play, with its intricate mix of sound and light cues timed perfectly with the dialogue and movement of the actors.

Speaking of actors, Alon Nashman is terrific as the notary Alphonse.  He never over-plays the character's grasshopper optimism or Goldwynisms as he refers to "a fly in the appointment" and "Shakespeare's Skylock".  Valerie Buhagier gives a strong performance as Sawda, and sings well.  Paul Fateux is a bit over the top as Nihad, while David Fox shines in multiple roles.

As the young Nawal, Janick Hebert is charming and believable, but difficult to understand in her more emotional scenes.  Kelli Fox is outstanding as the middle-aged Nawal, giving the character great depth and strength, but Nicola Lipman doesn't seem to have the weight or presence needed for the oldest version of the character.

Richard Rose has done a fine job of directing and staging the piece.  He's created powerful stage pictures without losing sight of the humanity of the characters and the thrust of the ideas.  The reading of the will is a lesson in direction and timing.

Despite losing some of its force during the extended monologues, SCORCHED is a powerful play with powerful ideas, particularly apt in this time of international upheavals and tensions.

On a scale of one to five the NAC/Tarragon Theatre co-production of SCORCHED gets four and one third Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.  

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