World Stages: International Theatre Festival – ‘Incendios’ at The Kennedy Center

The World Stages: International Theater Festival takes the center stage at The Kennedy Center, March 10-30, 2014 bringing together some of today’s most exciting theatrical visionaries presenting an unprecedented focus on theatre from around the globe. Twenty-two theatrical offerings from nineteen countries, and every continent except Antarctica, are represented in this theater Festival of dynamic stories examining contemporary issues and universal themes. Curated by Alicia Adams, Vice President, International Programming, thirteen fully staged productions will be featured including nine U.S. premieres, as well as four theater-focused installations, panel discussions, two staged readings, and two Directors forums.

The delights in this extraordinary assembling of theatrical treasures comprise World Stages: International Theater Festival 2014 – The Kennedy Center’s first theater-focused international festival!


Origins of Love – Review: Incendios

Where does your story begin?

There are truths that can only be revealed when discovered, and sometimes that involves finding bleak beauty in life’s darkest moments.

In the intimate theater space of the Terrace Galler at the Kennedy Center is the U.S. Premiere of Incendios, the explosive Mexican production by theater company Tapioca Inn, directed and adapted by Hugo Arrevillaga. Beautifully conceived by the award-winning, Lebanese-Canadian playwright Wajdi Mouawad, an incisive and important voice in world theater, Incendios was turned into a film directed by Denis Villeneuve, and was a Best Foreign Language Film nominee in 2011 (Incendies).

 Karina Gidi   and  Alejandra Chacón  Tapioca Inn Theatre Company (Mexico). Photo by Roberto Blenda.
Karina Gidi and Alejandra Chacón Tapioca Inn Theatre Company (Mexico). Photo by Roberto Blenda.

Incendios is a family bond that cannot be broken.

A rich, complicated story of opposites, dualities, and contradictions, Incendies, explores the dichotomy of good and bad, the attraction of opposites and the fine line between them. This hauntingly enigmatic, deeply personal tale is also an intricate mystery of the horrors of war and civil upheaval that moves fluidly between geographical locations and periods of time decades apart.

A challenging mosaic of vivid scenes, Incendies is the French word for “destruction by fire.”

The Spanish translation of Incendios by Humberto Pérez Mortera on opening night was effective storytelling, but the timing and flow of the subtitles on the two 50 inch screens displaying the subtitles facing both sides of the audience proved difficult and inconsistent. In this two-side, in-the-round experience, the delivery of the subtitles fell behind the delivery of the actors many times which unfortunately disrupted the emotional connection I had with the dramatics being played out in front of me. I’m certain those issues will be improved.

This eight actor, powerfully told story is with minimal set design, but what the production does have is a wooden centerpiece whose multifunction use strips away any distraction from the performances and Wajdi Mouawad powerful narrative. The effective lighting design serves as a seamless and complimentary visual texture in the unfolding drama.

Julia (Rebeca Trejo), a Mathematics Professor and her brother, Simon (Javier Oliván) an amateur boxer, are two grown twins and their mother Nawal (Karina Gidi) has just died. They resent their mother because she hadn’t spoken to them or anyone for the six years. As they sit in front of the notary (Pedro Mira) who was also her friend, he presents them with Nawal’s will and cryptic instructions of her last wishes she wants the siblings to individually carry out. The will’s instructions include the delivery of two envelopes to locate the father they believed was dead, and the unknown brother, unheard of before their mother’s death.

Forced to solve a painful puzzle, the twins embark on a revealing and life-changing journey.

The play moves restlessly back and forth over the past 50 years, sometimes with two scenes existing simultaneously before the audience. As the deepest secrets of their mother past are unraveled and pieced together, they discover unknown “secrets”of their very own. Returning to their mother’s homeland in the Middle East, Nawal’s early life as the mother who brought them into the world is unveiled as a very different woman from the one they thought they knew.

The reality the siblings thought they knew has been forever changed in ways that are surprising and unimaginable.

The painstaking discovery by Julia and Simon are handled with steely resolve and emotional sensitivity. Extreme opposites in their outlook on life and the way they handle grief, Trejo and Oliván succeed drawing in the audience with their compelling individual struggles and traumatic breakthrough.

Nawal is the heart of Incendios. In a solid portrayal Karina Gidi strikes a consistent chord of level-headed determination that is admirable. Yet at times, the physicality of the character felt uncomfortably stiff and disconnected from the affected words coming out of her mouth. Over the time periods of her life, we see a range of demeanor from Nawal (from a tender innocent in love to a destroyed older woman) but the totality of her portrayals is singular. Absent is the complexity of her portrayal, that in-the-moment, emotional versatility within a scene.

Concepción Márquez (grandmother) and the entire ensemble cast is impressive in the variety of roles they perform. Pedro Mira (Alphonse Lebel) as the notary provides much welcomed humor and hope in Incendies that assuage the play’s dark overtones. Mira is a consistent scene stealer and quite frankly almost steals the show. His energy and active presence (without going over the top) powers the entire production every time he is in a scene.

Jorge León is endearing as Nawal’s young lover, and I thoroughly enjoyed his heartfelt interpretation. His passion and sincerity resonate, and I only wish more could be seen from this actor. Alejandra Chacón (Sawda) is captivating. My eye continued to follow her expressive, convincing performance, and Guillermo Villegas (sniper /torturer) commanding intensity is both engaging and chilling.

The sense of destiny is powerfully revealed to all the characters that pass through the story.

Where does your story begin? The origins of love factor into whom we become, the choices we make, and ultimately how we live. Incendios is a riveting theatre experience that stays with you and has added meaning long after you’ve left the theater.

Performed in Spanish with English supertitles. Recommended for ages 15 and up.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Incendios plays March 15 and March 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm in the Terrace Gallery at The Kennedy Center  – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC.  For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

The closest metro station is Foggy Bottom/George Washington University. There is a FREE Kennedy Center Shuttle that departs from the metro station every 15 minutes from 9:45 a.m.-Midnight Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-Midnight Saturdays, and noon-Midnight on Sundays.


Read Sydney-Chanele Dawkins’ other reviews here of shows in the World Stages: International Theater Festival:

The Suit. 
Tapioca Inn: Incendios.
Death & the Maiden (La Muerte y La Doncella). 
Savannah Bay.

World Stages Festival YouTube channel

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [email protected] [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


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