REVIEW: Scorched (Silk Road Theatre Project)

 

A Silence That Speaks Louder Than Words

 

 

Scene from Silk Road Theatre Project's "Scorched" 1
   
Silk Road Theatre Project presents
   
Scorched
   
Written by Wajdi Mouawad
Translated by
Linda Gaboriau
Directed by Dale Heinen
at
Pierce Hall, 77 W. Washington (map)
through November 7  |  tickets: $24-$34  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Silk Road Theatre Project’s production of Scorched is a cinematic wonder. The play whisks the audience away on an emotional journey that spans oceans and decades. Silk Road chooses to keep things minimal, with a set design that consists of little more than a small platform surrounded by sand, suggesting a far off land somewhere in the Fertile Crescent. Yet under the brilliant direction of Dale Heinen, this small set transforms into other worlds, worlds that reveal a tragic story of war, love, death and destruction.

Scorched, which is receiving its Chicago premier, was written by Lebanese playwright Wajdi Mouawad, who, as a long-time resident of French Scene from Silk Road Theatre Project's "Scorched" 2Canada and France, has built a reputation as one of the most esteemed French-language playwrights. If Scorched is a testament to his talent, then the reputation is most definitely deserved.

The story is one of the most compelling I have seen. It centers on two twins, Simon (Nick Cimino) and Janine (Lacy Katherine Campbell). Their mother, who has been mute for the past five years, just passed away. There are some odd provisions in her will, specifically two envelopes, one for each of the twins. One envelope is to be given to their father, a man they have never known. The other is to be given to their brother, a man they never even knew existed.

Mouawad crafts a great mystery right from the top, and the pacing in which he reveals the truth behind the twin’s lineage and their mother’s long silence is perfect. As the twins get closer to discovering family secrets, the tension mounts to an almost unbearable degree, which makes the ultimate conclusion that much more spine tingling. I will refrain from giving anything away, but I will say that this play has one of the best climaxes I have ever seen.

While the twins conduct their search, we learn about their mother, Nawal, through a series of flashbacks. Portrayed by multiple actresses, we see wrenching scenes of Nawal giving up her first-born child and fighting off hostile militants. Part of the genius of the play is that although Nawal is dead from the beginning; the events of the play reveal the rich life she led.

Scene from Silk Road Theatre Project's "Scorched" 4 Heinen’s direction is really the star of the play. That’s not to say the acting doesn’t stand for itself, which it does, but the effortless execution of a very difficult play is commendable. Flashbacks are seamlessly interwoven into action that takes place in the present day. Such scenes, which easily could have become a confused mess, are staged perfectly to ensure the overlapping never becomes cumbersome. Extra touches, such as the use of the back wall as a projection screen and the sudden backlighting of the same wall evoke images of a bullet-riddled bus, make the brutality of the play more vivid.

Campbell delivers an emotional performance as the daughter. Fawzia Mirza as Nawal’s friend Sawda has a captivating stage presence. And Diana Simonzadeh as the oldest incarnation of Nawal has a stately demeanor and exudes confidence.

Scorched is one of those rare plays that successfully crosses over into multiple genres, from historical fiction to family drama to mystery. If you want to see a great story beautifully told, see this show.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Scene from Silk Road Theatre Project's "Scorched" 1

Featuring: Adam Poss*, Diana Simonzadeh*, Fredric Stone*, Lacy Katherine Campbell, Rinska Carrasco-Prestinary, Nicholas Cimino, Justin James Farley, Carolyn Hoerdemann, and Fawzia Mirza.

* Denotes member of Actor’s Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers.

   
   

 

A scene from Wajdi Mouawad’s Scorched, featuring Rinska M. Carrasco (Young Nawal) and Nicholas Cimino (Wahab)

   
   


REVIEW: Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol”

Get ready to love Christmas!

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Goodman Theatre presents:

 A Christmas Carol

By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Tom Creamer
Directed by
William Brown
thru December 31st (ticket info)

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Pictured in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, directed by William Brown are (top to bottom) Penelope Walker (Ghost of Christmas Present), John Babbo (Ignorance) and Caroline Heffernan (Want).If you’re not filled with the holiday spirit yet, you will be after Goodman’s A Christmas Carol.  Now in its 30th year, Charles Dickens‘ tale of redemption is brought to life by an all-star cast of Chicago talent, creating a emotional journey through one man’s mistakes that will resonate long after the curtain goes down.

This year’s production begins with a beautiful medley of holiday songs that immediately establishes the idea that Ebeneezer Scrooge (Larry Yando) detests: Christmas brings warmth and calm to a cold, chaotic world. But happiness is not profitable, and the great Yando plays an excellent curmudgeon in the opening scenes. Hunched over books of number and growling at charity workers, he is the portrait of loneliness. Yando begins to transform as he is shown visions of the past and present, and almost immediately the images awaken feelings that have been long buried. A scene between young Scrooge (Andy Truschinski) and his fiancee Belle (Jessie Mueller) is particularly heartbreaking because of the dedication Yando brings to his attempts to change the events that have shaped (destroyed?) him. The journey through his past tortures him, but he cannot escape viewing his own actions – the ultimate punishment. The pain of these moments is heightened by the contrast between the nature of the prison and the characterizations of the jailers: the Ghosts of Christmas Past (Alex Weisman) and Present (Penelope Walker).

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Weisman, fresh off a Jeff award win for Timeline Theatre’s The History Boys, looks like he is having the time of his life as he flies across the stage, and his jolly nature is a great fit for the early moments of Scrooge’s past, especially the Christmas party at Fezziwig’s. Walker is beautiful in a massive gold and red gown, and she sprinkles glitter with ebullient laughter that forces a smile out of the coldest hearts. As Scrooge’s memories sour, so do his tour guides. The aforementioned scene between Scrooge and Belle stifles the gleeful fire that burns in Weisman, and as Walker reveals the disdain Scrooge’s peers have toward him, as well as the troubles they themselves face, she becomes an almost malevolent force. A scene where she introduces Scrooge to the two children that represent Ignorance and Want, crawling out from beneath her garment to maximum dramatic effect, is particularly haunting, and the perfect introduction to the most terrifying of Dickens’ heralds: the Ghost of Christmas Future. Major props to the Goodman design team for creating the horrifically huge puppet for this last ghost, giving the spirit an overwhelming dreadfulness.

ChristmasCarol-5 The supporting cast impresses, balancing the community’s spite toward Scrooge with the good cheer of the holiday season. The Cratchit family is the heart of the show, and Ron Rains brings a wonderful caring energy as the patriarch Bob, always showing respect to his cruel boss. The scenes in the Cratchit household are brimming with love between husband and wife, parent and child, and actor and script. Fiercely committed, the actors have found the beauty in their misfortune, making Tiny Tim’s (John Francis Babbo) death in the future all the more tragic.

While sadness and loss are major factors of Dickens’ tale, Goodman’s production is filled with humor and moments of pure glee. The party at Fezziwig’s is positively rollicking and Scrooge’s nephew Fred’s (Matt Schwader) Christmas dinner is a joyful celebration filled with music and laughter. Where the show is most successful, though, is in the final moments when Scrooge vows to redeem himself, and Yando skips, jumps, and laughs his way into the hearts of the audience, a humbug no more.

 

Rating: ★★★½

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