Scorched – an extraordinary play; an extraordinary production

“Scorched” is the name of a play by Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad, which was the first production of Forum Theatre’s current season. We saw it last night, closing night, which makes this brief rave review something other than timely.

It’s an ensemble show, and each of the actors stood out, benefiting not only from their natural talents, but from Michael Dove’s fine directing. But you expect this in Forum productions, each of which seems to hit a degree of excellence.

But what I want to comment on here is the play itself. I went into the theater knowing only a few things – that it had been well reviewed, that it was about the Middle East and the search by Canadian twins for their father after their mother’s death, that it was set in Lebanon (although the country was never named), that it was very powerful, and that it was 3 hours long.

This last fact was a matter of concern to me – I don’t like to pay full price for one 60 minute act, but I also don’t like to feel strapped to my chair for three hours. Not to worry. These were very fast, very smooth hours. Not once did I wish the play to be over or felt that it needed to be shortened. Could it have been shorter? Probably to an extent, but certainly nothing was loss by its length.

The themes are many. The chaos that is the Middle East, the horrors of brother-against-brother civil wars, how violence begets violence, how easy it is to become inured to violence, how important it is to escape and rise above a heritage of violence, how important it is to talk about your past and how essential it is to keep silent about it. A mother who has been silent for five years dies, leaving everything to her twenty-something twins, but also giving them instructions that they must return to the country of her birth and locate their lost brother (about whom they had not previous known) and their father (who they long assumed was dead). The story is of their rebellion against these instructions, and their individual and collective change of mind, as they went about their journey. A journey into the past, as the story of their mother is told in flashbacks from her first love and early pregnancy to her search during the heart of the war for her long lost first son, to her years in prison for having committed a very visible “crime”.

The show is fraught with emotion, with adventure, with uncertainty. It is a highly realistic story – and a most unrealistic story. The outcome is inevitable – but the story line is filled with unexpected twists and surprises. History is not what it seems – history is just what it seems. Humanity is depraved – humanity copes with its limitations and hopes for its future. We are in the throes of perpetual warfare with no end in sight – except when we are not.

Not everything fits together perfectly. Is that a flaw? I think not. I think it helps make the point. To me, “Scorched” has many elements of an epic – Greek, Indian, you name it. Characters shaped by their circumstances, distorted beyond reality, destined in ways unknown.

This play has been performed in many places and will undoubtedly be performed again and again. When it is playing at a theater near you, don’t miss the opportunity to see it.

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