Entertainment » Theatre

Miracle in Rwanda

by Brooke Pierce
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Apr 22, 2019
Malaika Uwamahoro  in "Miracle in Rwanda
Malaika Uwamahoro in "Miracle in Rwanda  (Source:Carol Rosegg)

This April marks the 25th anniversary of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. With the genocide of the Rohingya people continuing in Burma, and the genocidal ideology of white supremacists rising across the West, now more than ever is the time to remember and examine past atrocities. Magis Theatre Company, Acuity Productions, and Broadview Phoenix are now offering an opportunity for remembrance with the Off-Broadway production of "Miracle in Rwanda," now playing at the Lion Theatre.

Penned by playwrights Leslie Malaika Lewis and Edward Vilga, "Miracle in Rwanda" is a one-woman play based on the true story of Immaculée Ilibagiza. Ilibagiza was 24 years old when her father, upon hearing calls for the slaughter of the Tutsi on the radio, told her to run to a neighboring Hutu pastor's home for protection. He took her in and hid her (unbeknownst to all others in his household) in a small secret bathroom — along with several other Tutsi women and girls.

During the three months of the genocide, which took the lives of nearly one million Tutsi people, these women were crammed together in this small space. They took turns sitting and sleeping, and grew thin trying to survive on the few scraps that the pastor brought them to eat. They had to keep quiet, and lived in constant fear that roving groups of men with machetes might find them out.

Throughout the ordeal, Immaculée drew strength from her faith. Holding her father's rosary beads, she would pray often. She would repeatedly try to recite the entire Lord's Prayer, but the words "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us" would stick in her throat. Her fury at the Hutus carrying out the genocide made it impossible for her to truthfully speak those words of forgiveness.

As Immaculée, actress Malaika Uwamahoro beautifully demonstrates the young woman's inner strength, along with a sweet boldness that serves her well during this terrible time. Uwamahoro plays many other characters as well, with some of the most memorable being the aged pastor whose kindness may not be a sure thing, and the swaggering Hutu leader whose band of killers repeatedly harass the pastor because they suspect he's hiding Tutsi people.

As much as a I love a short runtime (the play is about 70 minutes long), this was a case where I wouldn't have minded a little more length, particularly to get a bit more insight into how Immaculée and the others endured the physical and psychological strain of being crammed together, and to hear more of the "voices" of those other women.

Despite the horrific carnage of the genocide, fortunately many Tutsi live to tell their heartrending stories. "Miracle in Rwanda" helps us better understand how one woman survived, and also how a painful struggle with her faith led her to find some inner healing through the forgiveness of her oppressors.

"Miracle in Rwanda" runs through May 11 at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, NYC. For information or tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.miracleinrwanda.nyc

Brooke Pierce is a freelance writer and playwright in New York City. Her plays have received staged readings at the American Theatre of Actors, the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and Stage One Theater. Brooke is a member of the Drama Desk and the Dramatists Guild.

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