The play opens to Paul Mercer (Mike Hughes) wandering in a desert, rifle in hand. He’s a Canadian solider who often feels he needs some time alone. When he gets to a spot he is comfortable with, he takes off his boots and socks and relaxes. All’s well and quiet until a teenage boy (a show-stealing Glenda Braganza) carrying a duffle bag approaches the soldier.
A threatened Mercer points his gun at the frightened Palestinian teen and demands he leave the area immediately. The boy, Sadiq, has a bag full of goodies that he tries to push on the soldier: water, jeans, perfume, but the only thing that piques Mercer’s attention are photos the boy sells on behalf of his boss, Salim. Let’s just say the photos make up for the fact that Mercer hasn’t seen his girlfriend in a long, long time.
Mercer becomes a regular customer of Sadiq’s and the two slowly and almost unknowingly form a bond. Mercer wants Sadiq to meet him once a week with new pictures for which he is willing to pay big Canadian coloured bucks for.
A Line in the Sand is dialogue-heavy. Sadiq nicknames Mercer “G.I. Vancouver”, after he finds out that is where he is from. The two young men delve into their pasts and presents and we learn that they are not so different or, as Sadiq put it, “you like me.” Their mothers are dead and their relationships with their fathers are less-than-perfect. Sadiq is a curious boy who wants to know everything about America. He is planning to move to Kansas with the money he is making selling odd items. He’s going to work hard and be rich. His uncle Mike from the U.S. says only lazy people are poor. It is obvious Mercer and Sadiq enjoy each other’s company. When Sadiq gives Mercer free photos as a gift, Mercer is confused and offers to give the teen money. “You don’t understand gift, Vancouver?” Sadiq asks. The script is witty and unexpectedly funny, but it is in large part due to the perfect performance Braganza gives as Sadiq. Her line delivery and accent are authentic and never overdone.
Their wisecracks and relationship are reminiscent of scenes from The Hurt Locker where Beckham sells DVDs to Staff Sargeant James, Jeremy Renner’s character. They get along wonderfully even though they’re supposed to be enemies. It’s also clear that they have been misinformed all along. Sadiq learns that the United States isn’t exactly what they show on CNN, and Mercer learns that not all Muslims are jihadists. Mercer also convinces Sadiq to move to Canada instead of the United States, but Sadiq thinks it’s cold and dark there for eight months out of the year.
The second part of the play is completely different in tone. It’s again a dialogue, but between Mercer and his Colonel (Chip Chuipka). The two are in a tent for the remainder of the play and Mercer is being questioned about the torture and death of a young Arab. This heavier half sees Mercer piecing together what happened until a shocking confession changes everything that has gone on before.
The story is set to the backdrop of the Gulf War in the early “90s, but it is clear that the most important and riveting story told is the unexpected relationship that blossoms when two lost individuals find each other.
A Line in the Sand plays at the Segal Centre until March 21. Tickets are $15 for students.