The realities of war, poverty and destruction often lose their impact as tragedy covers the headlines every day. Maybe we have a coping mechanism to block the constant horrors out. But University Theatre’s “Scorched” changes that perception, framing a broad crisis in an intimate lens.
The story follows Simon and Janine, twins who are left alone after their mother passes away. In her will, unusual instructions ask each of them to deliver two letters: one to the father they never knew, and another to their brother they didn’t know existed. The setting eventually shifts to what is implied to be modern-day Syria, depicted as a country overrun by militants and poverty. It holds a mystery waiting to be solved by the siblings.
Without giving too much away, the narrative takes many twists and turns throughout its three hours. Despite the length, the plotline rarely drags or feels unnecessary. Featuring a cast of close to 30 characters, viewers are often introduced to fresh, dynamic faces every step of the way.
The contrast between Simon and Janine particularly stands out. Both are initially stricken by shock and silence in response to their mother’s unexpected death. Janine deals with her grief by calling herself to action and pushing to uncover what her mother left behind. However, Simon is reckless, resorting to anger both verbally and in his boxing career. Both perspectives reach a satisfying development at the play’s conclusion, solidifying how we respond to silence as a central theme of “Scorched”.
Aesthetically, the play shines, though rather grimly. Seating surrounds the stage, bringing the audience close to the action. This is not a typical play that feels distant. Viewers enjoy a personal look at the grey, rusty set that resembles that of a war-torn urban area.
“Scorched” uniquely draws upon image projections to help tell the story. Often a picture or brief film will project on a wall to add to the context of the story. A wartime photo frequently appeared, for example.
Although unique, this feature can distract from the main narrative. And there are few scenes that show perspectives from two different time periods at once. It’s certainly innovative and appropriate in some spots. But scenes had a tendency to quickly become overwhelmed with dialogue, making it difficult to follow. Perhaps by design, these troublesome spots don’t last long, and the story gets back on track sooner rather than later.
Sound adds to the intense immersion. I nearly jumped out of my seat the first time I heard one of the gunshot sounds. These effects are no Saturday morning cartoon. The firearms and the deaths sound real. Clearly, a lot of work went into making the setting, the sounds and the characters authentic.
“Scorched” is by no means for the faint of heart. It’s dark, dealing with issues relating to a mass execution of refugees, as well as instances of sexual violence. Nevertheless, it’s well worth seeing for those who crave a personal take on the Syrian Civil War and the refugee crisis.
When it comes to creating an emotional experience, “Scorched” delivers.
“Scorched” opened on March 4 and is available for viewing until March 13 at University of Oregon’s Hope Theatre.