Monday, August 13, 2012

SIA brings the tragedies of war to life

SIA brings the tragedies of war to life

30 March 2012 No Comments

By Anya Wassenberg

Starring Jajube Mandiela, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett and Thomas Olajide
Directed by Nina Lee Aquino
Continues to April 15 at Factory Theatre

The lost, discarded air of the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp in Ghana is captured in a spare set littered with discarded bottles, a partial wall of plastic bottles, one single chair and a few tires stacked on each other. The lost and conflicted lives of its inhabitants are fleshed out in a clever script and strong performances from the three actors in this interesting and revealing play.

Brendan McMurty-Howlett is Nicholas Summers, a young and reckless Canadian on the last day of his trip to save Africa. After a final drunken celebration, he’s at first puzzled, then horrified as it dawns on him that his friend Saa Abraham (Thomas Olajide) is securing him to a chair and won’t let him leave.

He knew of Abraham’s past as a child soldier under a former rebel known as “The Butcher” (a monster reminiscent of the currently infamous LRA leader Joseph Kony), who’s on trial at The Hague. It’s that trial Abraham is looking to derail by kidnapping a white man – for reasons that only become clear over the course of the play. Sure enough, the kidnapping of a North American brings the press and military intervention, although things don’t seem to be going according to plan.

The complexities of the situation are revealed bit by bit in a script that’s well paced and blends humour in the first half then gradually ramps up  tensions. Two story lines unfold with Abraham in the middle of both, one with Nicholas and another with his younger sister Sia. They intersect only at the end, when the meaning of Abraham’s actions become crystal clear.

It’s a talky play, with the action limited to a single location, but the words carry a weight and intensity that do justice to the stories they tell about Abraham and his sister and the terrible fate that befell their family when the fighting came to their Liberian town, leaving their father dead, Sia raped and left for dead and Abraham forced to join the soldiers. Stripped of his own humanity, he becomes just another one of the perpetrators in the end.

The acting is what lights up this dark story. McMurtry-Howlett does a nice job of portraying the naïve Canadian boy, raised on the do-gooders creed by his parents. He veers between disbelief, delirium and desperation, neatly portraying the combination of essential goodwill tainted by a damningly superficial understanding of the situations or what he was actually there to do. “I don’t know if I helped anybody,” he admits. Olajide’s Saa Abraham is a complex character, at once tortured by his past and yet still capable of casual cruelty. “I fought for the devil that tore my country apart,” he laments. Jajube Mandiela gives us a convincing portrait of the brash 11-year old Sia; all the more heartbreaking for her youthful courage.

SIA is a play about the tragedies of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations. It integrates a little history lesson on Liberia and the consequences of its bloody and decades long civil war. What I found most telling — though there was a little shuffling about during the lighter first half of the play, the audience grew completely silent and still during the latter part as it reached its climax.

SIA is presented by Cahoots Theatre

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