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A CurtainUp Review
I Have Before Me a Remarkabledocument Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rawanda
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Elise Stone, artistic director and founder of Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, directs the play with love and compassion. She lets the story's incredible humanity shine through, unhindered by directorial interference or overproduction. Rohit Kapoor's set is no more than a few chairs and recesses that allow the two characters to appear and disappear. The excellent dialogue creates the setting.
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda is a two-hander that requires intense cooperation and communication between the actors. Susan Heyward (Juliette) and Joseph J. Menino (Simon) are so natural and believable one would think they have been working together for years. The two are also quite adept at alternating between talking to each other and blocking each other out when they confide in the audience. This is a source of great humor when they make observations they would most assuredly not want the other to hear.
Juliette finds Simon, whom she has come to in quest of getting her book published, unsatisfactory and undistinguished. His clothing is stained and he has the rumpled appearance of a man who is not married (he, in fact, is in an unfulfilling marriage with a woman to whom he can no longer relate). On a picnic, she observes that Simon eats bananas, a food only suitable for woman and children in her native Rwanda. She giggles over the hairiness of European men, who she believes resemble monkeys.
Simon is patronizing and clueless. He compares her horrible journey to the United Kingdom with backpacking in India when he was a youth. He observes that her name is spelled in the French way, and then reasons that is because Rwanda was a French colony (it was a Belgian colony). He confides to the audience that Juliette most probably looks up to him. He gives her the kind of assignments one might propose for a college freshman.
The emotional heart of the story, however, is only in small part Simon and Juliette's relationship. The most powerful moments are those in which Juliette relives her harrowing experiences in Rwanda, those moments when neighbor turned on neighbor and her father was told that if he wanted to die by a bullet he would have to pay money.
Linden wrote this play after she started working with clients of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, where she met a young woman who, like Juliette, had lost her entire family and wanted to write about it. As the daughter of refugees from Nazi German, Linden was especially moved by this latest chapter in the history of genocide.
Given its theme, I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady from Rwanda could easily be depressing, self-righteous and derivative. It is none of these. Phoenix Theatre Ensemble has produced a play that portrays human being who are resilient and resourceful, who stumble toward understanding and forgiveness. It is never demoralizing, always moral. Most of all, it insists on the power of art to change the world.
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