Scorching hot

By Alidor Aucoin on October 16, 2008

The hottest theatre ticket  in town these days is Scorched. Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre Company brought its stark, fluent staging of Wajdi Mouawad’s chilling  family drama,  to the Centaur Friday. As translated from its original French-version, Incendies, into English by Linda Gaboriou, directed by Richard Rose and designed by  Graham S. Thompson, Scorched is  pure, unadulterated theatre.

At the emotional core of the play  is the attempt by a photojournalist named Nawal, a  immigrant from a blood-stained Arab country - take your pick -  to come to terms with the generational cycle of “anger to anger, grief to grief, murder to murder, back to the beginning of time.”

Five years before Nawal dies   she stops speaking. After her death  in Montreal the dead woman’s  last will and testament instructs  her twins, Simon, (Sergio DiZio)  and  Janine (Sophie Goulet) to deliver two letters, one to  their father, whom they thought was dead, and the other to  their brother, Nihad (Alex Poch-Goldin) whom they didn’t know existed.

In  a series of swirling rhythms, the back story gathers more force with each round. Whenever the script blazes into  nightmare, the tension is relieved by Nawal’s comically whiny lawyer, Alphone Lebel, (Alon Nashman), who is given to comic anecdotes and delicious malapropisms, such as “Rome wasn’t built in the middle of the day,” or refers to a client who  “shows up like a fly in the appointment.”

Much of the pain derives from the extraordinary performances of three women who play Nawal at various stages in her life: Janick Hébert, Sarah Orenstein, and Nicola Lipman. In addition to the three women who play the lead, other members of the cast are at the top of their game. Jerry Franken disappears into multiple roles as The Man, a kind of Everyman on stage who serves as a thread to hold the pieces together.

Sergio DiZio is terrific as the angry,  sullen son, Simon and Sophie Goulet is forceful as his calculating mathematician  sister Janine. Valerie Buhagiar gives an impressive performance as Nawal’s gravel-voiced, freedom- fighting sister-in- arms, Sawda. But it is Alex Poch-Goldin, as Nawal’s maniacal lost son, Nihad who delivers the most horror - seared moment.  Poch-Goldin,  is at once a mischevious adolescent and a depraved terrorist to whom blood sport is entertainment - for him, killing people is as  much fun as playing an air guitar.

Teresa Przybtlski’s costumes Todd Charlton’s sound and Graham S. Thompson’s arid, desert setting, complete with sand dunes,  are flawless.

They contribute to  the cinematic staging of an undeniably powerful  work that pushes Canadian theatre a significant step forward.

Scorched is at the Centaur Theatre until Nov 2.

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