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In Darfur

a Drama
CATEGORY : DRAMA
by Winter Miller

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 2766

SHOWING : April 11, 2008 - May 11, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

In the hunt for a human interest story that will break the silence on the crisis in Darfur, a New York Times reporter's life becomes intertwined with an aid worker's mission to save lives and a Darfuri woman's quest for safety at a refugee camp. Their own lives are put at risk trying to escape. Their struggles bring this searing story of urgency and international significance to light to the world in this suspense thriller.

Phone: (404) 584-7450
Web: Event Website
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In the hunt for a human interest story that will break the silence on the crisis in Darfur, a New York Times reporter's life becomes intertwined with an aid worker's mission to save lives and a Darfuri woman's quest for safety at a refugee camp. Their own lives are put at risk trying to escape. Their struggles bring this searing story of urgency and international significance to light to the world in this suspense thriller.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Lisa Adler
COSTUME DESIGNER SHILLA BENNING
Hamida Chinái J. Hardy
Hawa Michele McCullough Hazard
Ensemble Neal Hazard
Carlos Eric Mendenhall
Jan Yvonne Singh
Maryka Elizabeth Diane Wells
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REVIEWS

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Memories of Life
by Dedalus
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
5.0
Hawa, a young Darfuri “internally displaced person,” gets through the horror of each day by remembering what she was doing, where she was “one year ago today,” “two years ago today,” and so forth.

We sit in the Horizon Theatre, sipping our Chardonnay, moved by her plight, and debate the political ramifications of calling a situation “genocide,” of not using the politically incorrect word “refugee.”

And Hawa, played by Michele McCullough Hazard in the bravest and most impressive performance I’ve seen in years, trusts her story, her life, to the whims of a reporter more interested in a story than in a life. And they both trust it to the whims of an audience, thinking about traffic on the way home and another Monday morning rut-ual.

Does anyone else see the cruel ironies at work here? Other writers have hemmed and hawed about this production, faulting the politics, the performances, the production, the script. These other writers, (along with other audiences) have gone on with their lives, with other assignments, with other plays, with other entertainments.

I too, will be going on to other plays, to my day job, to another tech gig. To my life.

But, still, I am haunted by Hawa. Hawa, who only has (or had) a memory of life. Hawa, whose pain provided the grist for the Daily News mill, whose tragedy fed the appetite of a comfortable theatre audience looking for a “politically correct” thriller. Hawa, whose fate is still unknown, who has disappeared into the sinkhole of neglect and Been-There Seen-That atrocity news that is bumped from the front page by political gaffes and “American Idol” results.

Why should we care? This is only one person’s story, and we’re told that over 200,000 have died, millions have been displaced, all are starving. We have had our comfortable lives shaken by news from Rwanda, from Serbia, from Iraq and Afghanistan, from Columbine. Genocide is equal in our consciousness with children “saved” from a cult, with the latest blonde murdered or kidnapped, with the appalling choices of the NFL draft process.

Hawa tells us of her family, of finding the bodies of her husband and child, of seeing her students, all children, shot dead in the middle of their English lesson, in the middle of learning the intractably demanding conjugation of "to go." We sit in stunned silence as a statistic is made blood-red real.

We see cruel consequences as a report of rape leads to an arrest for adultery. We are told the cold logic of the “rape tactics” of the Janjaweed militias. We see the terrified bravery as Hawa tells her story, knowing the telling of it can be just as fatal as the living of it.

And still, I am haunted by Hawa. By her memories of life. By her refusal to despair. By her defiance of the winds of the world’s numb neglect.

This is a production that works in every way. It uses the tactics of a thriller - starting out with a mad race through the desert under the threats of cows, mangoes, and guns. It flashes back to tell us how these three people, the reporter, the aid worker, and Hawa, came to this point. It thrills us with the very real dangers, the horrific backstories, even the desert flies singing to the victims. And it concludes with a gut-wrenching encounter at the Chad border.

The cast is uniformly excellent, from Elizabeth Wells Berkes’ reporter, to Eric Mendenhall’s Aid Worker, to incredible (and multilingual) ensemble work by Yvonne Singh, Chinai Hardy, Neal Hazard, and Jelani Jones. I especially liked the unspoken sexuality of Ms. Berkes’ and Mr. Mendenhall’s “Getting to know you” scene, and its rueful anti-climax. But it is Michele McCullough Hazard who is the heart and soul of this piece. With a face hollowed by hunger and grief, she sometimes finds the courage to actually smile, to accept a kindness, to forgive a betrayal. And she does it in three languages. I cannot imagine the amount of preparation that went into this role, both physically and psychologically. Of course, I cannot vouch for the accuracy of her Arabic and Zaghawa dialog, but, to my untrained ear, it was convincing (the program lists five language consultants and a dialect consultant - all deserve commendation).

The production values are also high, sound and lighting both contributing to the emotional resonance of the play, both building a landscape of dry heat, of damp fear, of desert, of warfare. The set starkly suggests corners of a desert, of a refugee camp, a central rock magically becoming a car when the lights and sound tell it to do so. The sound of flies drift over a field of bodies, gunfire erupts from all corners of the house, underscoring comes from everywhere and no where. And, utter silence, like I’ve never heard in a theatre, underscores Hawa’s telling of the end of her former life, the life she now lives only through memory.

The play is, indeed, overtly political. It’s not afraid to tackle the ethical dilemmas faced by Ms. Berkes’ reporter, the seemingly callous choice she makes, which, in the long run, may have been the right choice to make. It doesn’t absolve the Western characters from a certain self-serving complicity in the situation. It doesn’t deny a willingness to pander to its audience using the tropes of thrillers.

But it succeeds by putting a human face, a haunting face, on the nameless statistics that make up most of our knowledge of Darfur.

A face that reminds us that, while we are busily, numbly, living our lives, there are over a million others, halfway around the world, whose only option is a blissfully cruel Memory of Life.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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