Scorched – Tarragon Theatre

By John Bourke

Tarragon Theatre/ Scorched
My ticket for Scorched, now playing at Tarragon theatre, said “Scorched, 2nd remount”, which tells you something of the remarkable run this production has had;  First produced in Montreal in 2005, the play’s english language premeire was at Tarragon in 2007, when it recieved two Dora awards, then brought back in 2008 before touring across the country and landing back in Toronto in time for me to see it last week.
Of course, any production with this sort of pedigree must have something going for it, and Scorched certainly has those things that go.  This is an extraordinarily well put together show, with an exceptional cast, stunning design and thought-provoking subject matter.
Walking in to the theatre, the first thing I saw was what I thought was a waterfall in the middle of the stage.  As I came further in to the house, I realised that rather than water, what I was seeing was a continual stream of sand falling down from above the theatre and that the entire stage was covered with deep drifts of sand. The sand would continue to be used wonderfully throughout the play as a very visceral and real addition to some moments, and provided metaphorical weight to others.
At its core Scorched is about a woman, Nawal, and the events of her life as seen through the eyes of her twin children and her friend, a Notary.  Nawal has died, and through her will has asked her children to find their father (who they thought was dead) and their brother (who they didn’t know existed to begin with). The children travel to the country of their mother’s birth, a war-torn middle-eastern country left purposely nameless, to track down their brother and father and through this discover the history that their mother had kept from them.
The show at its core is about redemption, and how the decisions we make in our lives continue to affect us and those around us in ways we cannot possibly know when we make them.  The horrors of the deepening war that acts as the catalyst for the changes in Nawal’s life provides a grisly counterpoint to the growing respect and admiration given her by her children.
I do admit that I found myself groaning inwardly as the play got a little heavy-handed towards the end.  When discussing the play with a coworker the next day, I described it as what would happen if M. Night Shyamalan wrote a play, surprise ending and all.  She somewhat less charitably but more entertainingly called it ‘movie of the week stuff’.  Whatever the case, and without really going into detail about it, I did feel that a lighter touch would have prevented some plot elements near the end from threatening to overshadow the rest of the play.
Also, I felt a little bemused at the character of the notary Alphonse, played with likable gusto by Alon Nashman; while extremely funny, I thought that he was out of step with the rest of the cast, like he was acting in a different production than everyone else.
My show partner for this production was Genny, and she said it gave her a lot to think about, and made her wonder how she would react if put in the same kind of situations as the characters in the play.  She also thought the set and the staging were very effective and economical and that the cast worked extremely well with each other.
She did mention that she thought the first act was a bit slow, and that switching between locations and people was a bit disjointed, making it difficult for the show to really develop a rhythm and that like me she thought Alphonse’s humour was a bit out of place.  She did like the way the show wrapped everything up at the end as the full history of the family was revealed though.
Warts and all though, this is an extremely worthwhile show, as its national success has proven.  You will exit the theatre thinking about the themes, and if you’re a design junky like I am, you’ll love the set, sound, and lighting.  The production deserves every award it was been given, and you’d be remiss if you missed it – especially since you’d probably be the only Toronto theatre goer who hasn’t at this point.

-Scorched plays in the Mainspace at Tarragon June 9-28, 2009 ONLY.
-Tuesday through Saturday at 8 pm $35 – $45
-Saturday & Sunday matinee at 2:30 pm $35
-Friday Night Rush $15
-Seniors’ and students’ prices for regular performances, except Saturday night: $30 – $35

Photo of Janick Hebert, Alex Poch-Goldin, Valerie Buhagiar, David Fox by by Cylla von Tiedemann