Family, loss, mystery, and war are themes inherent to playwright Wajdi Mouawad’s portfolio. After attending Tideline last Friday at Hart House, I was anticipating the inclusion of these subjects in Scorched, even before researching the play online. But unlike Tideline, UC Follies opted to downplay the intensity of Mouawad’s script by hosting their performance of Scorched in the UC Quad, a grassy, outdoor plot in the centre of St. George’s UC building. The setting and props were even more simplistic than Tideline, offering a quaint, intimate performance under the stars—well, it was actually a cloudy evening, but you get the idea.
UC Follies debuted their production of Scorched last Thursday night. Directed by Lyla Belsey and Louis-Alexandre Boulet, the performance offered a respectful depiction of Mouawad’s script, despite the unconventional venue.
In keeping with Mouawad’s knack for convolution, Scorched is an intricate story that begins with the death of Nawal Marwan (Marium Masood, Shai Tannyan, and Marium Raja), the mother of Simone and Janine Marwan (Nicole Bell and River Pereira). The twin brother and sister meet in the notary office of the bumbling Alphonse Lebel (Melissa Fearon), who outlines Nawal’s last will and testament to the twins. But Nawal’s final requests are unusual. She wishes to be buried naked, without a coffin. She asks that her son and daughter lie her face down in the grave, and pour three buckets of water over her body before filling in the hole. She wants her grave to remain unmarked until the twins deliver two letters: one to their father and one to their brother. But here’s the catch—until reading Nawal’s will, the twins believed their father died in battle. They were also unaware they had a brother.
Nawal’s requests are anything but random. As the story progresses through a series of flashbacks depicting Nawal’s life in her homeland, we slowly learn the truth behind her mystery. The twins hate their mother for her distance, her silence, and her secrecy. But Nawal is the opposite of a bad mother. At the age of 15, she falls in love with a young man from her village, Wahab (Shak Haq). She becomes pregnant, and the pair make plans to live happily together with their child. “Now that we’re together, everything feels better,” Wahab tells Nawal. She repeats this phrase to herself as she grows old.
But of course, Nawal’s mother forbids her daughter’s plans. Immediately after giving birth, the baby is taken away from Nawal. Wahab is then sent to a prison camp at the onset of war. Nawal leaves her village, and returns three years later prepared to track down her baby. She meets the eager Sawda (Mirabella Sundar Singh), who joins Nawal on her quest. Over the next several decades, the pair travels through a land devastated by war. They search for Nawal’s son, and they search for peace among the wreckage of their home.
Scorched occurs primarily in Nawal’s memories. Time and place become interchangeable, as the scenes move back and forth between the twins in the present and Nawal in the past. During these transitions, the past and present are often displayed side by side, interacting with each other without fully stepping into the other’s scene. In one moment, the twins interact at the forefront of the stage. In the background, on a level heightened by concrete stairs, Sawda runs back and forth, calling Nawal’s name. She moves into the forefront and hurries towards the twins, who freeze in a tableau. Sawda taps their shoulders and asks if they’ve seen Nawal before running back to her scene. The twins then resume their conversation. These two dimensions turn on and off sporadically throughout the play, allowing both stories to evolve at once.
This element of interchangeability is also prominent in Tideline. I can’t help but admire its effectiveness in both performances. As the actors of Scorched move between past and present, their transitions are seamless. One of my favourite examples is the scene where Simone and Janine meet in Alphonse’s backyard to discuss Nawal’s will. The sound of drills on the street deafen their meeting. Alphonse mentions that Nawal never travelled on buses because of an incident during the war, in which she escaped a bus full of innocent citizens only to watch a crowd of militiamen assail the bus with machine guns and gasoline.
As the scene between Simone, Janine, and Alphonse transitions into this horrific memory, the drills on the street assume the context of machine guns. The present moment freezes, and the focus shifts to the background, where Nawal sobs on the ground as the militiamen burn the bus.
As I mentioned earlier, the setting and props were sparse. Stage lights illuminated the makeshift stage and the surrounding trees, creating a cozy vibe in the Quad. The trees in the background were wrapped in white sheets. Four white blocks were used interchangeably on the forefront of the stage. This set was a downplayed version of Tideline, right down to the use of white stage pieces.
Leading up to the conclusion, I considered Scorched to be an overall strong play. However, the ending shattered my preconceptions. The final scenes of the play offer a great disservice to the power of this script, particularly the sentiments of war and family it draws upon. Without giving anything away, I’ll say that the shocking plot twist revealed in the play’s final moments was overdramatized and unnecessary to the script. Frankly, I believe that this revelation detracts from the play’s major themes and abolishes Mouawad’s credibility.
Scorched is a realistic depiction of loss and love in a country ravaged by war, yet Mouawad’s ending struggles so hard to generate shock-value, that it ruins the authenticity of the script.
Scorched ran from September 22 to September 24 in the UC Quad.