Thursday, March 17, 2016
Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef's A LINE IN THE SAND is currently receiving a potent revival at the Factory Theatre.
The play takes place in the desert somewhere in Afghanistan. Sand covers everything, penetrates everything, becomes everything: as shifting and amorphous as the moral territory the play explores.
A boy, Sadiq, sixteen, a local, meets Mercer, a twenty-three year old male, Canadian soldier in the desert. Sadiq is a supplier of small luxuries and contraband: pornography, hashish, music. In spite of his bravado, Sadiq's a sweetheart of a kid, an innocent trying to scrabble together some cash to help his family and fuel his dream of leaving the desert and going to America, where he has an uncle.
Mercer is the failed son of a successful man. His mentally ill mother has recently died. "What are you doing here?" Sadiq asks him. It's a good question.
Initially Mercer's relationship with Sadiq is indeed mercenary: by turns, uneasy, exploitative, cruel, and insatiable. Sadiq instinctively sees what Mercer really needs: a friend, and they form an unorthodox alliance. Friendship, however, requires that people treat each other as, not the same, but equal. Sadiq and Mercer are not equal. The power imbalance in their relationship, combined with Mercer's moral intransigence lead to a tragic crime of horrific brutality.
The first act is spent with Mercer and Sadiq as their relationship evolves. The second act is spent mostly with Mercer and a Colonel, who is brought in to investigate a crime on the base, to which Mercer has been a party.
Cameras play a significant role in the production. Mercer has a sophisticated camera and at one point, Sadiq insists on having his picture taken with him, a coltish gesture of affection.
The whoosh of the shutter screen is used as a staccato punctuation throughout, reminding us that the watchers are watched too. Images, the creation of their content, and their uses, are one of the many topics explored to unsettling effect.
The crime perpetrated on the base is also photographed. Peacekeepers are allegedly observers in a theatre of war. When does observing a crime, and doing nothing, become a crime itself?
Morgan David Jones plays the troubled Mercer with enough edge to keep the audience guessing what he may be capable of doing. Newcomer, Danny Ghantous as Sadiq is the play's beating heart, and he is crushingly good. John Cleland is a forceful and sympathetic Colonel.
Nigel Shawn Williams direction elucidates the layered narrative, and skillfully explores the complex relationships that drive it. The tension and paranoia inherent in such situations was palpable.
Verdecchia and Youssef's drama will haunt your dreams. It did mine.
I awoke to the CBC on the Monday morning after I saw the play, to hear a journalist talking about crimes committed by French peacekeepers in the Congo, who were using food to bribe small, hungry boys as young as nine, to perform sexual acts.
A LINE IN THE SAND may have been written a decade ago, but it still feels ripped from the headlines. This is an excellent production of a challenging play. Go see it.
A LINE IN THE SAND continues at THE FACTORY THEATRE in the Studio Theatre until March 27th http://www.factorytheatre.ca for tickets, times, and further information.