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St. Louis by Richard Green

Scorched
The Orange Girls

Scorched
Magan Wiles, Michelle Hand and Nancy Lewis
I don't think I've ever seen an epic drama staged in a black box theater before. And, to be honest, I spent part of the next morning trying to figure out how to boil down the first two hours of this three hour show to just one. Much of the story is spent showing refugee women wandering from one bleak tragedy to the next, told in flashback, and two grown children searching for their long lost father and a brother.

But the final 45 minutes of Scorched are so brilliant, in the hands of director Tom Martin and his nine-person cast, that those first two hours and fifteen minutes become an incredibly good investment of time and tenacity.  Wajdi Mouawad's 2005 script sends Magan Wiles (as Nawal) and Meghan Maguire (as Sawda) walking in circles in a rough, barren desert, fleeing an unspecified war-torn region.  Ms. Wiles is later replaced by Michelle Hand in the central role, as she enters the second third of her life.  Ms. Hand, Ms. Maguire, and Brooke Edwards are also the artistic directors and creators of the Orange Girls theatre company, and their big gamble on a challenging script pays off magnificently.

Ms. Edwards  and Joel Lewis are the children tasked with finding their father, as well as an unknown brother, in a long but light-hearted scene with Bruce Longworth as the executor of their mother's estate. Mr. Longworth reappears now and then as a guide, dispensing charming malapropisms and gentle but rigorous reminders of their mother's will as they go. Kevin Beyer plays a long list of incidental characters they meet along the way, but it is not until we meet him in full Arabian ceremonial robes near the end that he reaches his most towering identity. Given the human (and inhuman) parade, Scorched is all a bit Dickensian—if Dickens had been a girl, and London were Darfur.

By that time (check your watches, it's 10:15) the stage is set for an international war crimes tribunal, as Nancy Lewis takes over the role of Nawal for her own murderous rebuke of the leader of a barbarous paramilitary group. We have, by then, already been introduced to an amoral sniper (Bob Mitchell) with dreams of being profiled on TV magazine shows, who shoots his unknown victims with a rifle at the same moment he captures the images of their falling bodies with an SLR camera. Haunting white-robed bodies flash briefly on a large screen with a single rivulet of blood on each gown, and they fall in a dark no-man's land before their mysterious image is wiped away. Later, in the trial scene, Mr. Mitchell returns in a brazen, outstanding performance as an unrepentant mass murderer. The sheer power of his and Ms. Lewis' presentations crash through the fourth wall like a battering ram.

Of course, those testimonies wouldn't have all their power if it weren't for a myriad of cruel disappointments and all that clinging to meager hope that came before, along with the initially inexplicable scenes with Ms. Edwards explaining "graph theory," or Joel Lewis boxing in a gym. But these and other scenes ultimately create so much breadth in the story, that when it all boils down to the war crimes trial, every word and space between words rings with meaning.

Through September 28, 2008 at the Anheuser-Busch black box theatre at COCA, 524 Trinity Ave., University City, MO. The theater is located at the rear of the building at the west end of the U. City Loop, just inside the lions' gates, a block south of Delmar. For information call (314) 520-9557 or visit www.orangegirls.org.

Cast
Brook Edwards: Janine
Kevin Beyer: Antoine, Doctor, Abdessamad, Militia Man, Tourist Guide, Janitor, Photographer, Chamseddine, Malak
Michelle Hand: Nawal (age 40), Jihane
Joel Lewis: Simon/Wahab
Nancy Lewis: Nawal (age 60), Nazira
Bruce Longworth*: Alphonse Lebel
Meghan Maguire: Sawda/Elhame
Bob Mitchell: Nihad, Ralph, Militia
Magan Wiles*: Nawal (ages 14-19)
* Denotes member, Actors' Equity

Crew
Director: Tom Martin
Assistant Director: Jaime Lyn Bast
Set Design: Scott DeBroux
Lighting Design: Marc Moore
Sound Design: Brian Beracha
Costume Design: Nicole Winning
Wig Master: Soon Martin
Properties: Cassi Scott
Technical Director: Jon Hisaw
COCA TD: Kevin Sorice
Stage Manager: Maria Straub
Production Manager: Margaret Bort
Company Intern: Michele Dumoulin
House Manager: Alice Kinsella
Poster/Cover Design: Dan Reid
Program Design: David Braun


Photo: John C. Lamb


-- Richard T. Green

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