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: The DNA Trail (Silk Road Theatre Project)

Silk Road’s “DNA Trail” doesn’t lead far

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Silk Road Theatre Project presents
 
The DNA Trail
 

Conceived by Jamil Khoury
Directed by Steve Scott
Featuring plays by: Philip Kan Gotanda, Velina Hasu Houston, David Henry Hwang, Jamil Khoury, Shishir Kurup, Lina Patel, and Elizabeth Wong
at
Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington (map)
through April 4th (more info)

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The foundational concept behind Silk Road Theatre Project’s The DNA Trail is an inspired one. Seven playwrights of Asian descent have their cheeks swabbed. Those little swabs are analyzed by DNA researchers. The results reveal the ancestral background of each playwright, even pointing as far back as the original cradle of humanity, East Africa. Then the experience is mined for theatrical gold. Each playwright is obliged to write a short piece about the results, the experience, or really anything relating to ancestry, genealogy, or the study of DNA. The whole process is a bold mingling of science and the arts, two forces that should be linked together more often.

dna-trail1 With such a dashing idea, the production could’ve been enlightening. Unfortunately, the results are tepid and meandering, leaving much to be desired.

The seven playwrights are Philip Kan Gotanda, Velina Hasu Houston, Tony-award winner (and Pulitzer finalist) David Henry Hwang, Silk Road artistic director Jamil Khoury, Shishir Kurup, Lina Patel, and Elizabeth Wong. The whole hullabaloo was directed by Steve Scott. The plays range from family dramas, wild farces, and bizarre journeys into the mitochondria.

The last play of the night, Child is Father to Man by Philip Kan Gotanda, is by far the best. It is a one-man show, honestly and thoughtfully performed by Khurram Mozaffar. Gotanda’s play is a meditation on the death of a father, with the son wondering about their relationship, the qualities that are inherited through bloodline, and the qualities that are shaped by life. It’s simple, straightforward, and beautiful. The play proves that something substantial can be accomplished with so few pages. If only this came through in the other short works.

Wong’s Finding Your Inner Zulu is a cute start to the night, but fails to make a real impact. Revolving around two estranged sisters, breast cancer, and a moon goddess, Houston’s Mother Road, leaves the audience behind in confusion after a few minutes. Kurup’s Bolt from the Blue has the same effect. The 12-15 minute play is actually a pretty difficult medium, and Houston and Kurup overextend themselves.

Khoury’s WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole is funny and revealing. Clayton Stamper plays Khoury himself, who deals with the fact that he is a white guy named ‘Jamil.’ The play, through direct address and several scenes, sheds some light on the mission and founding of Silk Road Theatre Project, an interesting by-product of the piece. That Could Be You, Patel’s contribution, dramatizes the science behind DNA in a pretty hilarious way. I was disappointed by Hwang’s piece, A Very DNA Reunion, a homage to the history-defying first act of Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls but lacking the bite.

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Scott’s direction is top notch and Lee Keenan’s lights and set are remarkable. The ensemble includes Mozaffar, Stamper, Jennifer Shin, Cora Vander Broek, Melissa Kong, Fawzia Mirza, and Anthony Peeples, and all of the actors do a decent job juggling between each individual show. There is obviously a lot of talent going into this production from nearly every angle. On the whole, the texts just aren’t strong enough to support.

Some of the writers are too married to the project, like Wong and Hwang. Taken out of this specific context, some of the plays wouldn’t work as stand-alone pieces. If we didn’t already know the Trail’s process, a couple would seem oddly obscure. But because the process is revealed in the program, they feel redundant. If everyone could abstract and interpret the project as well as Gotanda, this would be a winning short play festival. When the topic is as significant as the building blocks that make us human beings, Silk Road could have delivered so much more.

 
Rating: ★★
 

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