Scorched | The Orange Girls

play_orange-girls.jpgBrooke Edwards and Joel Lewis do fine work as Janine and Simon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Orange Girls end their season with a provocative and compelling work by Wadji Mouawad. Over the course of three hours (with intermission), Scorched takes its characters and the audience on a journey of discovery that leaves them both stunned and speechless. A superbly talented ensemble brings this piece to life in the confines of the Anheuser-Busch Black Box Theatre at COCA.

Twins Janine and Simon are told by the executor of their mother’s estate that she had one final request of the two of them. Each is given an envelope to be delivered to their father and brother, respectively. Since both have been told by their mother, Nawal, that their father is dead, and since neither are aware of the existence of another sibling, the request seems pointless. Simon, who’s training as a boxer, isn’t particularly interested in pursuing the ghosts of his mother’s past. But Janine, who teaches theoretical math while earning her degree, is intrigued by the possibilities. She makes a decision to travel abroad to find out the truth about her mother, and her own identity. The facts that she and her brother uncover provide a shocking revelation, which acts as a dramatic punch to the stomach.

Brooke Edwards and Joel Lewis do fine work as Janine and Simon. Edwards convinces as a pent-up mathematician who brings her own peculiar analytical slant to her sojourn. Lewis brings energy and attitude to his role, and his opening scene with the notary effectively conveys his disgust at having to fulfill a dead woman’s wish. Together they share a spirited interplay that makes their kinship believable. Lewis also doubles up as Wahab, Nawal’s true love.

Magan Wiles, Michelle Hand and Nancy Lewis play Nawal at different periods in her life, as her story plays out on the stage. Wiles is the young headstrong Nawal. She’s devoted to her lover, Wahab, but also pregnant in a place and time where this is a punishable offense. Hand portrays Nawal at middle age. She’s a hardened, intelligent militant at this point, willing to sacrifice herself to unseat a regime that’s left her country in ruins. She’s also good as her own mother, the stern and unbending Jihane. Lewis is powerful as the elder Nawal, emotionally and physically battered by her captors, but strong enough to stand up to her torturer when he’s finally put on trial. She also plays her own grandmother, offering sage advice to her younger incarnation on her deathbed.

Meghan Maguire is very good as Sawda, known as "the woman who sings." She’s an accomplice to Nawal during her revolutionary years, and learns how to read and write from her. Kevin Beyer amazes in a number of supporting roles. At one point he directs the twins on a path that takes them to a succession of characters, each of whom adds a piece of information to the puzzle, and they’re all played by Beyer. Bruce Longworth brings much needed comic relief to this gripping saga as the malaprop inflected notary, Alphonse Lebel. Bruce Mitchell is strong as the tormented and troubled sniper, Nihad.

Tom Martin’s direction is skillfully conceived and executed, with the actors and action seamlessly transitioning. Mouawad’s play is nonlinear, with flashbacks and scenes cutting back and forth across time, but the focus is always kept clearly defined. Scott Debroux’s set design utilizes a large sandbox as the stage, and this acts as a constant reminder of Nawal’s origins. Marc Moore’s sharp lighting scheme acts to heighten the drama. Brian Beracha’s sound adds another layer of atomsphere. Nicole Winning’s costumes lend a natural and credible feel to the proceedings.

Scorched is a engrossing show that delivers a payoff best left unrevealed. Though it’s a bit lengthy, I never felt the least bit bored or restless. | Chris Gibson

 

Scorched runs September 12-28, 2008. Tickets are $20 for general admission and $18 for students and seniors. For more information, go online to http://www.orangegirls.org/, or call 314-520-9557.

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