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: Return to Haifa (Next Theatre)

Accomplished design team elevates poignant story

 

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Evanston’s Next Theatre presents:

Return to Haifa

by M.E.H. Lewis
directed by
Jason Southerland
through March 7th (more info)

review by Aggie Hewitt

Return to Haifa is a smart and moving new play that follows two couples, one Jewish and one Palestinian during the ugly formation of the Jewish state. M.E.H. Lewis, a Chicago playwright, has created a nicely structured play, balancing the two couples against each other in a simple and effective way. She is credited in director’s note as being “famous as a playwright who does research worthy of a PhD dissertation,” and that is evident in her work – though, at times, it feels too academic.

ReturnToHaifa21 The Jewish & Palestinian husbands (nicely played by Daniel Cantor & Anish Jethmalani , respectively) are named Jacob & Ishmail for the estranged decedents of Abram who fathered Judaism and Islam. Playwright Lewis does not allow Ishmail a single scene in the first act where he does not mention a goat: “He will be so strong he will be able to kick a goat over the ocean” or “He can’t even milk a goat without knocking the bucket over three times.” Do you get it? Palestinians used a lot of goats in the 1940’s. This kind of writing can feel a little bit cold, especially during the first act, where large chunks feel like historical exposition. By the second act, however, all of this research comes together; creating a tension and frustration in the dialogue that would not be possible without the sometimes-alienating moments in Act One.

It’s the production’s women that make the play: Diana Simonzadeh as Safiyeh does some of the best on stage aging I have ever seen, both physically and emotionally. She goes from a playful, happy young mother to a wise, angry, regretful old woman without ever losing a bit of integrity or honesty. Her counter part, Saren Nofs-Snyder, gives a truly heartbreaking performance as Sarah, the holocaust survivor.

The over-arching themes of Return to Haifa deal with one’s possessions and where you call home. The house that these women both call home at different points of the play is always the most prominent thing on stage, and it’s well designed by Tom Burich. The walls are made of gauzy scrim, giving the inside of the house a nostalgic, dream-like and unattainable feel.

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Whenever Jared Moore is involved in lighting design, he seemingly becomes one of the play’s leading roles, as he comments on and advances the story on stage. He is so intuitive and artful about his work. The house is lit mostly in warm ambers, making it look inviting and safe, until it isn’t, and the stage becomes washed out with a nauseous grey blue that actually looks like death.

Return to Haifa is a good show, and a good choice for Next Theatre, whose shows often tend to be more traditional. Return to Haifa is not a challenging play, even though the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a challenging topic. It examines horrible things without any true horror. The result is a nice and moving drama, which focuses more on the emotional than the political.

Rating: ★★★

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