Sia – Review

Sia

April 11 – 14 & 17 – 21, 2012

EPCOR CENTRE’S Motel

http://www.downstage.ca/sia.shtml

 

It’s likely that you’ve met someone like Nick, the college-age white kid from Alberta who naively believes that he can change the world with his good deeds. It starts off with activities like local food drives and “fight the power” protests which satisfies his need to impose a sense of righteousness on the issues. But soon these local initiatives aren’t enough for his do-gooder ego and Nick looks to Africa, perhaps one of the neediest places on earth, to offer himself up volunteer-wise. It’s not that the desire of servitude isn’t itself noble or that the work to be done isn’t desperately needed and necessary. What makes us shake our head at a guy like Nick is that he takes on these roles knowingly or unknowingly as an act of liberal white guilt flagellation. And history has shown us that this never works out well.

Sia begins with Nick in Ghana working as a volunteer in a Liberian refugee camp. Its evening and he and a local named Abraham are out on the town bar hopping, getting progressively more and more drunk. Or at least Nick is. What transpires at the end of the evening sets the stage for the rest of the play. Abraham, a former child solider, takes Nick hostage and demands that a witness in The Hague trial of the “Butcher” (the warlord that Abraham was made to fight for) not be allowed to testify.

Interspersed with the hostage scenes are flashbacks to Abraham’s teenage years in Liberia prior to his soldier duties. He and his beloved sister Sia practice their presentation for the peace monitors they hope are coming and discuss what they will do if the nearby fighting makes its way to their village. We know the two storylines are related, but it isn’t until the final scenes of the play that we realize the powerful and tragic entanglement of the two narratives.

It’s an interesting story, one that won playwright Matthew MacKenzie Grand Prize at the 2010 Alberta Playwriting Competition and apparently comes from some first-hand research. According to MacKenzie, Sia was inspired by interviews he conducted during two trips to the Buduburam refugee camp in 2004 and 2007. It is this field research no doubt that gives Sia its authentic sounding dialogue and its biting criticisms of Western aid to Africa. But thankfully Sia is not simply an exercise in North America-bashing. Mackenzie gives Abraham the character complexity of being neither a victim nor a hero and instead shows that there is imperfection on all sides of the issue and subtle shades of good and evil.

So it’s a real shame then that the performers choose not to embrace the dexterous nature of their characters and instead spend most of the play yelling at full volume. The scenes with Abraham and Sia in particular are guilty of this. Monice Peter is far too unmodulated in her emphatic portrayal of the 11-year old girl while Edward Ogum as Abraham spends most of his interactions with his sister either yelling at her or teasing her at a volume that sounded like yelling. Had the pair taken it down a notch, the bond between them would have been allowed to breathe and I would have felt remarkably more invested in their relationship.

The hostage scenes between Nick and Abraham are a more appropriate place for the yelling to occur and it comes in many forms. Abraham spits vitriol at Nick for his shallowness and Nick, played by Joe Perry alternates between full throttle begging and castigating of his captor. All this makes sense. However, when the climax is revealed through a lengthy monologue by Abraham and it is delivered by more tortured yelling, it loses impact. Ogum, who was far more impressive in his quieter moments, could have slayed us all had he only dropped the shrill for still and let the power of the dialogue do the shouting instead.  Director Simon Mallett needs to instruct his cast that there are better ways to pump up the emotion than simply pumping up the volume. The dialogue deserves better and the talented cast could handle it.

 

RATING

 For the guys – Nothing subtle here. Heavy subject, violent moments, loud acting. But underneath the noise is an interesting play. MAYBE SEE IT

 For the girls – As much as you will want to empathize with Sia, her almost unlikable portrayal makes it difficult. Not for the squeamish, the story is compelling despite the faults. MAYBE SEE IT

For the occasional theatre goer – This is not a light entertaining theater experience. But the story is important and you might be ok with the shouting as it does keep the energy up. MAYBE SEE IT

For the theatre junkie –Ogum is a terribly compelling presence in his more subtle moments and Perry’s mock CBC interview scene is a combination of brilliant writing and great delivery. MAYBE SEE IT

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