Monday, February 27, 2012

"Scorched" ☼ ☼ ☼ PLUS

With the backdrop of the Middle East consumed by an endless string of violence and retribution, we would expect a convoluted story. This is what we get with Wajdi Mouawad's "Scorched," which is an English translation of the original "Incendies," itself having been made into a Canadian French-language film.

You can make of it what you will. On one level it is a frustrating compendium of ignorance leading to hatred leading to violence. On a deeper level it is the story of a woman's love for her child, yanked from her the moment of its birth, and her lifetime search to find him -- with a totally unforeseen conclusion.

David Strathairn stars as Alphonse Lebel, the accountant charged with carrying out the final wishes of his friend Nawal, who had gone completely silent for the five years before her death. Nawal's two children, Janine (Annie Purcell) and Simon (Babak Tafti) know nothing of her horrific past, as she has never spoken to them about it. It is their voyage of discovery, particularly that of Janine, that drives the piece. All the actors are proficient, with standout roles by Strathhairn, Purcell and Tafti, plus Omozé Idehenre's captivating Sawda.

Note that we haven't told you how we feel about it yet. That's a complicated question. Some in our party loved it and some, this reviewer included, felt the show, with all its insistence on the ultimate powers of love and forgiveness, struck a false note somewhere. Perhaps this is because the conclusion, while theatric, seems so unlikely. Can a mother really pull forgiveness from this horrific hat? Perhaps.

All the creative pieces are there -- including an eye-popping set (Scott Bradley), lights (Russell H. Champa) and sound (Jake Rodriguez). This is a major production by a first class company. Your enjoyment will come down to whether Nawal's story moves you, or leaves you simply thoroughly depressed, not for the characters on stage but for frail and bitter humanity.

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division argued with itself about this one, before awarding "Scorched" Three Stars Plus. It sounds good, it looks good, the actors and creative team do their jobs well. But the really ought to move us more. As Annie Purcell's Janine, the mathematics teacher, is asked by her brother: "Is there any time when one plus one does not equal two?" This may be one of those times.

A.C.T. Theater
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through March 11, 2012

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