Director draws his Line in the Sand

Nigel Shawn Williams By Jasminee Sahoye
Nigel Shawn Williams
By Jasminee Sahoye

A Black director is taking on an unusual play about war at a time when Canada is having discussion to end air strikes against ISIS, the Syrian refugee crisis and our relationship to Iran, Israel, and the rest of the Middle East.
Nigel Shawn Williams, a Canadian of Jamaican origin, an actor and theatre director, takes on a Canadian classic, titled A Line in the Sand, that tells the gripping story of an unlikely friendship between a troubled Canadian soldier and a 16-year-old Palestinian boy who meet in the scorched Qatari desert during Operation Desert Shield.
Their secret and tenuous friendship comes to an abrupt end with the torture and murder of the teenager inside the Canadian base; an act to which his friend the soldier was a witness, if not a willing participant.
Williams told The Camera “The playwrights have given us great challenges to reach the drama, great challenges to uncover emotions and relationships. I think the difficulty for me as a director is to serve the play and to do it the justice as it’s due.”
He said the play lets him and the cast investigate different cultures and the difference between the West and East.
“On a grander scale, there’s always a system prejudice from different culture. Being able to investigate Canada’s involvement in the Gulf War and more specifically the relationship between Canadians and Arabs and Palestinians; we have a great amount of false information of why we are at war in the gulf region.
“There is a lack of understanding of the history of the Middle East and that whole region and without fuller understanding, we can’t fully understand the human costs and why Iraqis and Iranians and Palestinians and Israelis are fighting.”
Twenty years ago, A Line in the Sand which is being presented by Factory Naked Season in Toronto March 8 -27, ripped the benevolent mask off Western peacekeeping operations and challenged Canada’s long-treasured mythology that it is a nation of quiet diplomats.
It was created in 1995 for the New Play Centre (now Playwrights Centre in Vancouver) and was revised and produced at Tarragon Theatre a year later.
The production was also staged at Harbourfront Centre’s World Stage Festival in Toronto in 1996, directed by Verdecchia. It won the Chalmers Best New Play Award in 1997 and three MECCA Awards (Montréal English Critics Circle Awards) in 2009.
Williams who came to Canada with his family at an early age said the audience can “expect the unexpected.
“It’s not just a play about war, it’s really a play about human beings and relationships and friendships. There is no black or white; no easy answer.”
Williams was the Dora Mayor Moore Award for Outstanding performance winner in the 1995 play where he performed as Paul in John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation and won a second Dora as an actor in 2012 for his performance as Lincoln in Obsidian Theatre’s production of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog / Underdog, and was a nominee in 2013 for his performance as Henry in Canadian Stage’s production of David Mamet’s Race.
He won the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Direction of a Play / Musical in 2006 for his direction of Colleen Wagner’s The Monument and was nominated in 2011 for his direction of Anusree Roy’s Brothel #9.
A Line in the Sand is written by Guillermo Verdecchia and Marcus Youssef and stars John Cleland, Danny Ghantous and Morgan David Jones.
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