By Mukul Khurana
Whenever we get the feeling that the world is a bad place and our times are really bad, it is worth remembering that we have been down that road before. The early 90s (otherwise known as the “good Clinton years”) were not so good in other parts of the world—Bosnia and Rwanda being such places. Whereas we got entangled to some degree in Bosnia, Rwanda was a totally different story. We did as little as possible.
Both saw horrific acts of violence on a massive scale. Neighbor turned against neighbor. Atrocities that cannot be described were perpetrated. What happened in the early to mid-90s in Bosnia, happened in 1994 in Rwanda in a more concentrated manner. An estimated 800,000 Rwandans were killed between the months of April and July of that year. This genocide was aimed at the Tutsi population and it was carried out by the Hutus (two different ethnic groups that had sort-of coexisted in the “Switzerland of Africa,” as Rwandans liked to speak of their country).
It is a difficult thing to depict in a play, but Moxie Theatre gave it a shot—except that none of the horror was graphically shown in Our Lady of Kibeho by Katori Hall. Instead, the play is set in a school. And there’s a reason for that… It seems that during the years of 1981-1982, three young women from the small village of Kibeho claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. In addition, they claimed that they had messages from her for the people. The main message being that a horrible war was coming to Rwanda.
Directed with a subtle yet firm touch, Jennifer Eve Thorne excels at what Moxie does best—showcase the stories that usually don’t get told. This time, it is a combination of two points of view—the female and the African. The acting is excellent. Cashae Monya as the charismatic lead (Alphonsine), Tyrah Hunter (Anathalie), and Mallory Johnson (Marie-Claire) make up the “trinity.” Equally charismatic, Vimel Sephus plays the role of Father Tuyishime. Then again, the whole cast delivers top notch performances. The run began on the 1st of the month, but the joy and teamwork is already apparent.
The teamwork extends to the other elements that it takes to bring a play to the stage. Divya Murthy Kumar does a great job with the scenic design. The set is ready for all the different scenes. Likewise, Anastasia Pautova finds the appropriate costume for a production steeped in Catholicism (yet the language and humor remind you that fun and games don’t rely on revealing clothes alone). If the success of sound design is based on accentuating the mood without overpowering the written word, Melanie Chen let us hear when less is more. Sound came in strategically at critical times needed. The same can be said about the role of sound effects by Angelica Ynfante. The multimedia special effects were tasteful, yet strong. If there was anything lacking, it would have to be the uneven African accents.
Clearly, Katori Hall is a playwright, journalist, and an actress. The dimensions of each of those disciplines are covered. Moxie is to be lauded for shining a light on this dark chapter of human history. Have we learned from our history? If the current rhetoric on our political scene (and in other countries as well) is any indication, hatred and division continue to flourish. Even though the play is set in 1994, it is a very current topic. Our Lady of Kibeho runs from May 1st – May 29th.