Tonight I completed my Wajdi Mouawad trilogy. Last month I saw his production of Abduction from the Seraglio at the Canadian Opera Company twice, last week I saw Denis Villeneuve’s film Incendies, adapted from the play that I saw tonight. The show brings us full circle in an English translation by Linda Gaboriau presented by the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies at the University of Toronto. For those wondering about the fellow behind the opera or the film, this is a great opportunity.
For those who haven’t seen the film or the play, I’ll tread carefully to avoid spoilers, as the story is a mystery worthy of Sophocles complete with a modern version of Tiresias, the infallible seer, handing out messages from beyond the grave, portentous communication. While the tale is a dark one full of death & murder, its redemptive promise, such as it is, must be through the women who are the most inspiring figures, as in Mouawad’s take on the Mozart Singspiel.
Director Djanet Sears had an ideal vehicle for a student group, challenged & pushed beyond what they likely would encounter in any professional show. That’s one of the great things about universities, where one can undertake difficult works. The commitment we felt from every member in this ensemble was total and absolute.
The dark story is mitigated somewhat by the ongoing singing presented live by the cast. While some of this is in the play, Sears explained to me a bit after the show, that it had to be found & assembled. As one of the transcendent women is known as “the one who sings” the music is in some sense unavoidable in this story. We listen to songs in another language, sometimes creating haunting moments of great beauty. Does it matter that we don’t understand the words? Surely not. We’re taken to a reflective place between the episodes, sometimes suggesting a transcendental community, multiple voices connected all around us, even as the story at times presents the agnostic position, the impossibility of love in a crazy time in a crazy place. We’re lucky here in Canada to have the luxury to reflect on such things, not under any sort of bombardment or attack.
At times Mouawad gets into speechifying, letting a character go off on a poetic tear, telling an epic story, while everyone listens. And while some of those stories are well-nigh unbearable, I’m reminded of an old saying about classic theatre, that deaths were described rather than shown, so that most of the deaths are in the prose rather than in the flesh: and thank goodness for that mercy, especially when one considers Villeneuve’s alternative: to show the violence in clinical detail. But it does make some of the speeches stunningly difficult, Olympian paragraphs and mountainous terrain to traverse for a young actor.
Scorched will be running at the Helen Gardiner Phelan Playhouse until March 17th .