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African Continuum Theatre Company

to Oct. 9

The most frequent criticisms Sonja Linden receives concerning her play about a Rwandan refugee are from people who haven’t seen the play. They’re about its title: that it “uses up too much space in the listings column” and will “frighten audiences away because it has the word Rwanda in it.” The folks in listings will just have to soldier on, but potential audience members who expect the African Continuum Theatre production to be more worthy than witty are in for a pleasant surprise. The enormity of the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath is undeniable and emotionally daunting; it’s affected Juliette (Deidra LaWan Starnes), a Tutsi survivor who’s fled to London, in complex ways. She transmits her pain to Simon (Michael Glenn), her teacher at the refugee center, who’s struggling through a midlife crisis and writer’s block. No instrument can measure the relative weights the characters in this two-hander struggle under, and Simon knows it: Amid a recounting of his latest inner crisis, he demands, his compassion tinged with anger: “I mean, what’s my little hurt against yours?” Linden, whose parents were Holocaust refugees, knows it as well: Deftly telling the stories of these two lonely people, she makes Juliette a little foolish in her pride and Simon strangely sympathetic even as he spouts nonsense like “The poem writes you” and struggles with an experimental novel devoid of the letter I. (Juliette, a stranger to Western literature, nails the problem: “Your book is too clever.”) These two, who meet when Simon attempts to help Juliette with her manuscript about the genocide—a dry account that won’t touch its readers unless Juliette can reveal her own wounds—nevertheless bond in a place beyond words: When Juliette attends Simon’s poetry reading, she doesn’t understand the lines—and we can’t make them out either, which is probably just as well—but she’s moved by the music his voice makes. Meanwhile, he sees a radiance in her skin, her eyes, that relights his inspiration. Here, Linden is once again careful: This is a love story, but not the kind Hollywood tells. Juliette’s horrific recollections are handled thoughtfully—we hear only the details we need. As for director KenYatta Rogers, he’s wonderful because he’s invisible; the play seems not so much directed as lived.Granted, Glenn is a little stagy at first, his singsong middle-class London accent contrasting with his impassive face, but he warms to his task. And Starnes is magnificent: Despite her dull dress and shapeless sweater, her awkward gait and timid slouch, she lets slip here and there a broadly graceful gesture that makes Juliette worthy of even a pretentious bard’s verse.—Pamela Murray Winters