Monday, March 14, 2016


"How far would you run in order to escape from yourself?" ...

"Do we ever learn anything from war?"
                             Nigel Shawn Williams 
                                       - Director's Note for A Line In The Sand

At the heart of Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef’s 1995 award winning play, A line In the Sand, lies a deep distrust in popular notions regarding ‘Canadian’ identity. Are we friendly? Are we civilized? Are we a peacekeeping nation when it comes to war efforts? Is the term peacekeeping, when it comes to war, a bit of a Canadian’ized oxymoron? Are these questions too broad, and part of an implausible over-arching narrative that can never be fully realized? Who knows…

The current remount of this stylishly unnerving script raises these timeworn questions for a twenty first century audience whose national consciousness continues to be questioned, re-examined, and re-evaluated by complex critiques of past, historically catastrophic, and extremely shameful national practice - ranging form residential schools to internment camps, environmental debates, and the irrelevance of youth and beauty when it resides in the body of a Prime Minister - tra la. But this is a play about the first Gulf War - drawing lines in the proverbial sand that reverberate with a multitude of issues relevant both globally and trans-historically.

By placing an ensemble of three men within the raised parameters a confined, sandy, dais (a hopelessly ropeless boxing ring of sorts) - with spectators on two sides of the ‘ring’ - director Nigel Shawn Williams has created the perfect playing space for this brawl of emotions, interrogations, and love lines that are never fully actualized until the much anticipated climax - a climax that is subtly animated and anticipated throughout - and yet, like so much marginal romance, never fully exposed or explored in the script or the production.

This may be the only weakness - and paradoxically - the greatest strength of the show. The homo-erotic tension at the outset might have relied more heavily upon silent physicality and the unspoken body language so prevalent among men who may possess varying degrees of discomfort when it comes to open same sex desire. Had this been the case - an intense, smouldering sense of bodily attraction - then the climax might have become a more sympathetic rendition of war crimes that involve sexual idenity. But is that what is needed  or appropriate — sympathy? - in a play that reveals the frequent brutality integral to military presence - a brutality that is too often found within what could - and should - have remained relatively 'peaceful' situations.  As the program notes suggest, “the murderous actions of the Canadian Airborne Regiment[s] actions in Somaila” played a significant part in early discussions that led to the creation of A Line In the Sand.
                                                                    Danny Ghantous as Sadiq
Danny Ghantous as Sadiq, the young Arab man, gives a brilliant nuanced performance ripe with a fresh, personable  presence as he does his level best to befriend a brittle, repressed Canadian soldier who he meets - in the sand. The writing and direction has used the symbol of sand - and the very physically disarming instability of a sand covered stage - in a meta-theatrical manner, allowing the actors to use hands filled with grains of ungraspable, flighty matter as a multitude of props - ranging from photographs to cameras and naked palms as massage tools that bear a love that  begrudgingly dares to speak its name. 
                                                     Morgan David Jones as Mercer
Morgan David Jones as Mercer matches his co-stars performance with a subtle - exploding into terror and a form of silent blistering shame - with a subtle attention to fragile forms of heterocentric masculinity. Although effective and skilfully constructed, these nuances might have been directed to hit higher, more eroticized notes from time to time in order to make the same sex elements less marginal when it comes to the intimate confines of a deceptively expansive desert ‘closet.’ 
                                                     John Cleland as the Colonel
John Cleland as the Colonel rounds out the ensemble with a character whose extreme marginality in the first act becomes a layered, complex dominating force by the end. The unsettling, interconnected surprises from the Colonel’s past stream seamlessly from Cleland’s flawless characterization as he furthers the general narrative sense that there are no hero's, no peacekeepers, and certainly no winners when it comes to war - simply because it never should have happened in the first place.

A final speech from the young Arab man sums up the overall sense of hopelessness that the script so brilliantly and affirmatively handles throughout. Characters have exposed themselves and have been exposed by others in complex ways that create a bubbling an baffling suspense from start to finish. And yet, nothings ends, nothing finishes by the end of the play. We can only listen carefully to Sadiq’s final speech and try to sadly embrace an appropriate lack of forgiveness entwined with a certain kind of terror laden love that homosexuality and military presence have, historically - and all too frequently - proven to be terribly strange bedfellows. Well, so much for that spoiler alert…

director Nigel Shawn Williams


1 comment:

  1. Shana is a Certified Body Language Trainer and instructor who possess a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate Degrees in Education. Shana wakes up each morning with a smile on her face, knowing that she has the ability to inspire, motivate, and make a profound difference in other people’s lives by helping them achieve their goals.