1. Wading into the Silence
For the last five years of her life, Lebanese revolutionary and civil war survivor Nawal hasn’t uttered a word, not even to her twin children, Simone and Janine. They are exasperated and dumbfounded by their mother’s perpetual reticence. It isn’t until Janine obtains a box of cassette tapes containing 500 recorded hours of her mother’s silence that she is impelled to quest for her mother’s origins in her native land, and thus, the origins of her quietude. Simone eventually follows. Simone and Janine soon discover the horrific yet beautiful circumstances that precipitated the silence. In the end, it is through the contemplation of their mother’s silence that they are imbued with her virtues, as well as with a new love for humankind, despite its inveterate depravity.
2. Mr. Malaprop
The executor of Nawal’s last will and testament is notary Alphonse Lebel. He was also one of Nawal’s very close friends in the latter years of her life. His care for Nawal is unprecedented, which is more than can be said about her own children (in the beginning at least). Lebel also functions as the comic counterpart to the play’s unabated exhibition unto the horrors of the Lebanese civil war. Where Sheridan had Mrs. Malaprop, Lebel’s is her similarly afflicted husband. Suddenly, it’s no longer, “putting the cart before the horse” but “the cart before the house,” and we no longer, “see the light at the end of the tunnel,” but, “the train coming through the tunnel”. Lebel’s comedic effect is purposely light, and never brings the audience to stitches. If it did, it’s possible the audience would be distracted from the prevalent drama. Still, Lebel succeeds in eliciting a few much-needed laughs.
3. Juxtaposition of Set Design, Music and Chronology
Scorched’s contemporary-ness comes through in its often brilliant use of set design. The stage’s composite structure is a bamboo wood platform with a canopy extending over a quarter of the aft part of the platform. From the canopy pours down rain, and sometimes the blood-tide from a recent massacre. At other scenes, the blurry contour of a mid-east sun is projected onto the canopy; and sometimes the blood-blotched photographs of victims of a lone sniper. The scores of Scorched alternate between haunting, Lebanese chants and modern American classics to parallel disparate cultures. To that effect, pinnacle events throughout Nawal’s whole life, including those postmortem, are presented with the past and the present often intersecting. At one point, one of the characters from Nawal’s past comes running on stage during a scene set in present time, going as far as to interact with the present day characters.
4. But War—War Never Changes
Again and again is the gruesome and macabre nature of humankind brought to the forefront in the plot of Scorched. Nawal, her compatriot Sawda, and other survivors from the war render accounts of the egregious brutality during the Lebanese civil war. Each is as horrifying as the next. Many of these accounts are succeeded by a hypothesis on why war exists and what preserves it. Although always a worthy topic, the longer expositions about war are at time protracted ad nauseum, sometimes to the point of lessening the overall impact. It’s not a new idea that war is bad; however, the accumulated actions that foment the onset of war usually go unnoticed. Scorched vehemently refuses to ignore those aspects.
5. The Cycles of Hate and the Choice of Love
On her death bed, Nawal’s grandmother tells Nawal that she must learn to read, write and speak well, but also that she must do something to deter the cycles of hate that consumes her village—a microcosm of the world at large. As the Lebanese civil war comes into focus, with families turned against each other in vicious combat, it becomes more and more apparent that what sustains war and violence is the accrual of hate. Hate begets hate, no exceptions. Nawal’s travels expose her to the products of unchecked hate and how it twists the human heart. Despite the horrors that befall her, she resolves to choose love and compassion in attempts to halt the relentless ravaging of humankind. For her children, they too must learn of their pain—and once known, understand that it is their choice to either lash out in anger and spur on the cycles of hate, or to halt it by showing love and kindness to others. — AARON STELLA