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A sniper shoots men, women and children in an unnamed village- first with a machine gun, and then with a Polaroid camera. He captures their corpses, bloody, mutilated and horrible, and creates a sort of work of art. Scorched by Wajdi Mouawad, now playing at the Tarragon Theatre, lives in the tension between poetry and horror, and creates a gripping, living, pulsating piece of artwork swathed in beauty.

            The story centers on young twins, Janine and Simon, who upon their mother’s death embark on a journey through her past in attempt to give meaning and voice to the silent pain she endured in her life, and to enrich their own understanding of love, torture and the place where the two collide.

            Mouawad’s story is the perfect combination of emotional drama, wit and humor, which often emerge from the most disturbing images and tragic situations. The story is captivating from its first line and the writing is both intelligent and poignant. It is fused with brilliant performances by the entire cast, beautiful direction by Richard Rose, a mesmerizing set using sand and crisp lighting effects by Graeme S. Thomson and sound design (by Todd Charlton) that places the audience unmistakably in the world of the play.

            Scorched was first produced in Toronto in 2007, and then moved to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. It was awarded the Best Production Dora Mavor Moore Award last year in Toronto. Mouawad grew up in Lebanon, spent his adolescence in Paris and now lives and works in Montréal. Most of the actors who created these roles eighteen months ago return to Tarragon to recreate them.

            Standout, compelling performances include Janick Hébert who plays the twins’ mother, Nawal, when she is a young girl, with a mixture of joyous, love-filled hope, and heart-wrenching, sober, determination propelling her toward justice, family, knowledge and peace. Nicola Lipman plays Nawal from age 60-65 with strength, dignity, and courage simultaneously portraying intense confusion, grief, horror and love. Alon Nashman is perfect in his hilarious portrayal of Alphonse, a notary with his own interpretation of English adages. Sophie Goulet and Sergio Di Zio play Janine and Simon with an intensity that swings from emotional extremes, without pining anything definitively or reducing their characters’ journeys into trite, simplistic boxes.

            Scorched does not allow for boxes, as Mouawad says, it has no ceiling. The performers belong to a range of different cultures and races suggesting that this story does not belong to any one group of people, nor is it meant to represent one particular experience. Mouawad does not name the country of origin of Nawal, nor the conflict in which this country finds itself entrenched. In his programme note from a production he directed in Montréal in October 2006, Mouawad says that the audience may be inclined to imagine the events of the play unfolding in his native Lebanon, because he is Lebanese. He says, however, “what would quicken my heart would be to know that this show will remain… anchored above all else by poetry, detached from its political context and instead anchored in the politic of human suffering, the poetry which unites us all.” Scorched does not attempt to provide answers and tie the human experience up in a happy, neat, little package, but instead, raises the questions that surpass specific races, cultures and experiences. Surprisingly, it may leave you with a sense of hope and a strong desire to erupt into spontaneous laughter in the middle of a downpour.

Scorched plays at the Tarragon Theatre Mainspace until September 28th. 30 Bridgman Avenue. Toronto, Ontario. 416 531-1827. or www.tarragontheatre.com                       
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