by Lynn on March 15, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

l-r Morgan David Jones, Danny Ghantous photo: Dahlia Katz l-r Morgan David Jones,
Danny Ghantous
photo: Dahlia Katz

At the Factory Theatre Studio, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef
Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams
Sound by Wesley McKenzie
Cast: John Cleland
Danny Ghantous
Morgan David Jones.

A stark, unsettling look at the Canadian peacekeeping mission in the first Gulf War. Nigel Shawn Williams’ production is clear, gripping and full of wounded humanity.

The Story. As per the text: “The play is set in the desert just outside of Doha, Qatar, during Operation Desert Shield in the Persian Gulf in the late fall of 1990.” Mercer is a Canadian soldier, about 20 years old, serving with the Canadian contingent of the multinational peacekeeping coalition. He’s come to this spot in the desert for some solace, to be alone, to calm his nerves.

Sadiq is a 16 year old Palestinian who is in the Persian Gulf because his father has come there to earn money. Sadiq sells black market items. In the case of Mercer, Sadiq sells him porn photos. They form a friendship of sorts. Both men have prickly relationships with their fathers. Their mothers are dead. Sadiq wants to earn enough to go to America and live with his uncle in Kansas. Mercer joined the army to get discipline. He’s lost and the army seems a way of getting order in his life.

Then there is brutal incident with an Arab boy. Mercer is implicated. Is this true? Was the boy Sadiq? The truth comes out in an interrogation.

The Production. As A Line in the Sand is part of ‘The Naked Season’ at Factory Theatre, all the design elements are pared down to the bare essentials. Director Nigel Shawn Williams has placed the action of the play in a raised sand box. Sand is everywhere: in water canteens; in a briefcase and in files. The sand is used symbolically; metaphorically and literally. Williams’ beautiful images using sand are elegant, poignant and puts you right in Mercer’s hot, suffocating world. And there is noise (kudos to Wesley McKenzie, for the sound): noise of jets flying by close overhead, helicopters, machine guns.

When the play begins we hear gunfire in that background the lapping of water on a beach. And we hear gasping. Mercer (Morgan David Jones) is kneeling in the sand, head down almost on the sand, gasping. Mercer is surprised by Sadiq (Danny Ghantous) who calls out to him calmly. Mercer freaks. He calls out his full name, rank and regiment. Sadiq tries to calm him, but that only sets off Mercer as he grabs his gun, gets his courage back and takes command of the situation. Sadiq diffuses the situation with disarming charm, non-threatening body language and an innate knowledge of what a person wants and how to give it to him.

As Mercer, Morgan David Jones is a hair-trigger second away from losing it. He is obviously carrying around a lot of emotional baggage that could get the better of him at any moment. Sadiq has unlocked something in Mercer he can’t ignore and he’s powerless to try. When he is being interrogated in Act II by the Colonel, Mercer can barely control his shaking. He has a stutter. He is an emotional mess, distraught.

As Sadiq, Danny Ghantous has the poise of a pro. Sadiq has also been informed by his own emotional baggage but Sadiq can control it better. He knows that his point is to make money selling black market goods to soldiers in need. Sadiq cannot seem threatening. He uses his disarming smile to gain the confidence of Mercer. Sadiq is comfortable in his skin almost slumping as he stands there facing Mercer. He is playful, jokey, non-threatening, and accommodating.

As the Colonel, the person who has to find out what actually happened to that Arab boy, John Cleland is both the good and bad cop in one man. He is fatherly, understanding, anxious to help, and he is ruthless when pushing Mercer to talk and tell the truth at last.

Comment. A Line in the Sand was first produced in Vancouver in 1995. It was revised and presented at Tarragon Theatre in Toronto in 1996. And revised further for this production at Factory Theatre. The play was informed by the brutalization of a boy by the Canadian Airborne Regiment in Somalia. There is a scene that is completely outside what happens in sand. It’s the spin of the various political parties and the media filled with statistics of the dead; the cost of weapons; duelling facts, all give quickly, overlapping each other, a jumble of information. It juxtaposes the ‘simple’, brutal facts of what is happening to people who are there, stuck in the sand.

Nigel Shawn Williams has created a production that is both elegant and heart-breaking, and realizes the depth, the layers and the complexity of this particular war but it could be any war. Unfortunately.

Produced by Factory Theatre

First Performance: March 8, 2016.
Closes: March 27, 2016.
Cast: 3 men.
Running Time: 2 hours.

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