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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Review- I Have Before Me A Remarkable Document Given To Me By A Young Lady From Rwanda (Phoenix Theatre Ensemble)

The Fab Marquee review by A.K. Gobble

I Have Before Me A Remarkable Document Given To Me By A Young Lady From Rwanda is a new play by the award winning playwright, Sonja Linden, making its New York premiere presented by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble. This play follows the story of a young refugee named Juliet (Susan Hayward) as she struggles with her new life in a foreign country while dealing with her tormented past.

After witnessing her entire family’s execution and losing everything she owned, Juliet, a young survivor of the 1994 Rwanda massacre arrives in England under a refugee status and attempts to build a future for herself. Juliet’s dream of becoming a writer brings her together with an older gentleman, a burned out poet named Simon, (Joseph J. Menino) who works at the refugee center. Together they form an unlikely friendship of two people sharing their love for words and the healing powers they posses.

Joe Menino as Simon &
Susan Heyward as Juliet
photo credit: Monte Stilson

Simon encourages Juliet to be brave, tell the stories of her painful past and confront her overwhelming emotions by putting them on the page. As Juliet attempts to oblige, we discover the unthinkable reality this young lady once lived and the extreme cultural differences she is currently experiencing.

This play is written in a very personal way; using much needed humor at times to relieve us from the horrors we are told.

I find it to be very hard to write a review on a personal and truthful story such as this. No matter what you see on stage you really want to root for these people! I was extremely moved by this play and found myself wanting to explore more on the subject beyond the night’s performance.
Linden, who wrote this play, based it on her own experience working at a refugee center as a resident writer and was inspired by her own encounter with a young survivor and her story.
Linden’s challenge was to transform these painful stories into a piece of theater that would engage an audience. A challenge, that was successful mostly in credit to her talented and wonderful cast.

The play is written as a series of memories recalled by Juliet, the young survivor. And although her stories are captivating enough on their own, I find that when actors are on stage they need actions to make the story come alive, otherwise there is no difference between watching a play and reading a book. A play needs tension, a conflict, an emotional peak to keep an audience interested and I feel that in this case it fell a bit short, mainly in the relationship between Simon and Juliet. The relationship was unclear and I didn’t see their need for each other. At the beginning their relationship seemed to be taking on a romantic turn, leaving the audience in suspense and wonder but it was quickly dropped with no explanations. I would have liked to see it play on some more; maybe even cross a line in order to bring Simon’s character more meaning.

As wonderful as the actor was, I would have liked to see Simon’s character more extreme, more disheveled, bringing out more of his own demons. I felt he was somewhat unnecessary since this play would have easily functioned as a one-woman show with some subtle changes and would have been as equally interesting.

The story takes a twist when Juliet receives some exciting news from home regarding her youngest brother. This turn was also underplayed in my opinion and should have created more of an emotional peak; the big climax of the play was unfortunately not delivered. I believe it was outshined by the previously strong moments and the horrific descriptions of the killings; something I wish Elise Stone, the wonderfully sensitive director would have focused on. Her work on this piece was very creative and her use of the space was smart. With almost no set to back them up the transitions and locations were very clear.

With all that being said, I found myself to be very engaged and interested in this woman’s life. It has opened my eyes to a part of the world I rarely think about. I thought the actors were terrific and dedicated. It was hard not to fall in love with Hayward’s Juliet who captured both her sadness and her strength so perfectly and Menino’s Simon who was so warm and fatherly.

On a special not I would like to mention the lighting designer, Tony Mulanix whose work on this piece really contributed to my emotional involvement at times, especially the gorgeous setting of the church and candles.

Gadi at the Market by Jacqueline (Age 8), 2000
Gadi at the Market
by Jacqueline (age 8) 2000.
Through the Eyes of the Children: The Rwanda Project

This play is performed in conjunction with the award-winning exhibit “Through the Eyes of Children- the Rwanda Project”. These photos taken by the young survivors of the 1994 genocide make perfect setting to the show as you make your way to the theater and again once out.

If you get a chance, go see this play! I promise it will touch your heart.

Sonja Linden’s
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document
Given to Me by A Young Woman From Rwanda

April 12-May 4, 2008
Tuesdays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 1:30pm & 7:30pm
Theatre at Saint Peter’s

Theatre at Saint Peter’s | 54th Street just East of Lexington Avenue

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