This past week, the UTM Drama Club presented two emotionally-charged performances of Wajdi Mouawad’s contemporary play Scorched, directed by Tanisha Sinclair. The play documents the journey of twins Janine (Muhaddisah Batool) and Simon (Joshua Sidlofsky). The twins are sent by their recently deceased mother, Nawal (Sarah Abel-Rahman and Afreen Sharifabadi) to uncover their familial roots in her native country.
Scorched opens simply with a table and three chairs, as the twins Janine and Simon listen to the final will and testament of their mother read by her friend—a notary named Alphonse Lebel (Liam McKinnon). The letter details Nawal’s instructions for a sparse burial with no coffin and tombstone. She states that there should be “no epitaph for those who don’t keep their promises…for those that keep the silence.” It also contains several gifts for the twins that begin to unravel her mysterious past: a khaki jacket for Janine, a red notebook for Simon, and two letters—one addressed to their supposedly dead father and the other to a brother they have never known existed. Finally, Nawal tells her children that they may only mark her grave with a headstone if they deliver the letters and fulfill her wishes, thus breaking her silence.
Silence is a well utilized tool within this performance. Many of the most suspenseful moments of the play are punctuated with heavy pauses in dialogue; the actors’ faces conveying a lot of character details and emotion. For example, in the opening scene, Janine and Simon are mostly silent, but you can see how different their attitudes towards this loss are. Janine is obviously devastated and confused, while Simon is bitter, resentful, and angry. The actors do a wonderful job of interpreting this.
These long silences also play well with the story’s themes. Nawal is portrayed in her years raising the twins as quiet, revealing almost nothing about her past, and in the five years up until her death, she is completely mute. This silence is a recurring motif within the story and hangs over the family like a curse.
One of the greatest strengths of this show were the actors’ emotional performances. There were several scenes that I found absolutely chilling and they depicted well. A highlight for me was the character of Sawda (Rawan Alahmad), who the audiences sees for the first time as a bubbly teenager. Sawda offers to help a young Nawal in exchange for reading and writing lessons. As the play progresses, Sawda becomes cold and hardened.
In the present, Alphonse describes to Janine and Simon the origin of their mother’s fear of buses. In the past, Sawda crosses the stage screaming for Nawal after they had become separated. The stage is bathed in red light with a single spotlight on Sawda—this was one of the big stand-out scenes of the whole show for me.
The only weaknesses I experienced in the performance was the occasional inaudible line. I was sitting in the third row, but I still missed a few lines here and there in the more subdued and quiet scenes. This was a pretty minor concern for me, but it did lead to a bit of confusion in some scenes as I felt I had missed a little piece of context.
I left the theatre feeling thoughtful. Scorched is a long narrative with lots of detail and subtle themes, one that requires some absorbing and reflection. The ending is a bit eerie, open-ended, and bittersweet. The twins have discovered the truths of their family and its past and they are able to lay their mother to rest, but at what cost?
Scorched ran at the MiST Theatre until November 25.