In its new play, Boise Contemporary Theater manages a delicate balancing act, leaping between stark dichotomies—hope and fear, life and death, future and past—to create a production that first cuts at audiences' hearts and then fills them anew.
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady From Rwanda is both a celebration of life and a testament to the cruelty mankind is capable of heaping on his own kind.
It's a rare achievement to pull an audience to the depths of despair, while giving them a glimmer of hope, leaving them exhausted but fulfilled. Yet playwright Sonja Linden manages the tricky task with elegance, grace and humor.
The play tells the tale of a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Juliette, who makes it to England after watching her family be murdered. Juliette finds herself alone in a strange world and begins writing an account of the genocide. She brings it to the refugee center, where she meets Simon, a poet who is seeking his voice.
The two broken souls begin to form a friendship as Simon encourages Juliette to tell her own tale, to bring to life the characters from her life on the page. Bit by bit, Juliette's story begins to emerge in details that are both heart-warming and horrifying. But as she writes, both characters begin to heal.
This play would not work without the outstanding performances of both leads. Nylda Mark portrays Juliette in a way that is both haunting and endearing as she shows the alternating strength and fragility of one who has "survived too much."
In one particularly wrenching scene, Juliette sits on the floor of her stark room in a London hostel, pulling out a menagerie of candles. One by one, she lights them in honor of her murdered family members, remembering each in turn, until 10 candles flicker on stage. On opening night, muffled sobs filled the audience as each member felt the impact of the moment.
Mark is joined by longtime Boise actor Richard Klautsch, who masters the inner turmoil Simon feels as he is drawn to a girl with a dark and guarded past.
Director Maureen Towey allows the story to speak for itself, with a minimal set, simple but dramatic lighting, powerful performances and a 90-minute production without an intermission.
The rough brick wall of the theater as the backdrop gives the set an industrial feel, with a series of three raised platforms representing Juliette and Simon's personal areas and the place where they come together. Nearly everything is a dull shade of gray, symbolic of Juliette's world, from which all color and life has been ripped.
Beneath Juliette's room, tree roots cascade to the ground, literally allowing her to stand upon her own roots, while sheets of paper pour out around Simon's area as a nod to a life built on words in which unfinished novels lie in drawers. As Juliette's story is fully revealed, she begins to find peace. She steps forward to present her book, with Simon at her side, wearing a brilliant yellow scarf as a glowing symbol of her new outlook, one shared with an audience eager to witness her hope.
Through Saturday, Feb. 14. For more information or tickets, call Boise Contemporary Theater at 208-331-9224 or visit bctheater.org, 854 Fulton Street.