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Sense Of An Ending

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Dana Marie Ingraham and Heather Alicia Simms
Photo by Carol Rosegg
The Hutu and Tutsi people of Rwanda have been so thoroughly, so carefully taught to hate and fear each other that in a 100 day-period in 1994, some 800,000 Tutsis were slaughtered in a genocidal bloodletting that destroyed 70% of their overall population in that country. In the face of such horrors, are reconciliation and forgiveness even conceivable? That question lies at the heart of playwright Ken Urban's disturbing drama, Sense Of An Ending, at 59E59 Theaters.

As the play opens, five years have passed. Two Catholic nuns —the older, more self-assured Sister Justina (Heather Alicia Simms) and the younger, insecure Sister Alice (Dana Marie Ingraham) —are in prison, about to go on trial for their alleged complicity in the murder of dozens of Tutsis who were burned to death after taking refuge in their church. (The doors of the church, covered in weathered and peeling paint the color of blood, figure prominently in David L. Arsenault's set design).

On hand to report on the story is Charles (Joshua David Robinson), an African-American journalist. He is escorted everywhere by a military aide, Paul (Hubert Point-Du Jour), who says of Charles: "American, yes. African, no," knowing that "truth" is elusive in such times and that non-Africans will have a difficult time understanding the twisted complexities of the generations-old conflict.

Charles has been sent to write about the nuns, with the underlying assumption that they are being held up as scapegoats for the government-sanctioned wholesale killing spree. As he interviews them, however, he finds them to be evasive and contradictory in their stories, and he does not know what to think. Meanwhile, Paul produces a witness, Dusabi (Danyon Davis), the only survivor of the mass slaying at the church. Dusabi is a reluctant witness, a man barely hanging on after the horrific event, yet one whose story is so compelling that Charles is at a loss as to what to believe.

This is a play that presses us to think hard about issues of ingrained bigotry (the Hutu characters refer to the Tutsis as "inyenzi," or cockroaches), the perceived powerlessness of bystanders, and obedience to orders as an explanation/excuse for collusion. And if we are honest with ourselves, we ought to leave the theater wondering how we might act under the circumstances surrounding the violence.

The format of the play, made up of brief conversations and interviews, does not allow us to get to know any of the characters well, but the actors, under Adam Fitzgerald's taut direction, do an excellent job of conveying this sad tale. A scene between Dusabi and Sister Justina late in the play provides the most emotional moment, one that, in its simple honesty, is more gripping than all of the factual information that precedes it. It does serve to brace us for the end, when the church doors finally begin to open and Charles is at last ready to bear witness to what lies inside.

Sense Of An Ending
Through September 6
59E59 Theaters - Theater C, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: