Two New Great Reviews: DC Theatrescene and WJW

first from DC Theatrescene and their wonderful writer, Debbie Jackson:

“No doubt about it. In Darfur is not an easy piece to watch. That’s to be expected. The “news” from that part of the world is not new. So brace for scenes and stories depicting the horrific violence perpetrated on masses of people in Sudan, the brutality, the degradation, the savagery that hit the mainstream press in bits and incomprehensible pieces over the years.

Brace yourself, yet dare to look at this theatrical account to experience the moments close up from the personal perspectives of its characters, brought to us here with unflinching performances, honoring a carefully crafted new script by Winter Miller and ferociously directed by Georgetown’s own, Derek Goldman.

The story is told from the points of view of several key characters—an aide worker, a New York Times reporter and Hawa, an African Dafuri woman, a fictional composite of several stories that Miller heard while serving as a researcher in the field. And that’s the crux of why the story’s tone works as well as it does– it is anchored in a journalist’s desperate need to tell the story. Maryka, played with dispassionate cool by Rahaleh Nassri, must grapple with the age old ethical dilemma of whether to reveal her source to get an article published. The script makes very clear that Maryka is not unscrupulous or ill-intended. Quite the contrary– she’s the only one who gives a care about the atrocities, and she’s on deadline to deliver the goods to assure international attention with coveted “front page/above-the-fold” coverage. She knows that once she leaves, the world can and will comfortably turn a blind eye to the carnage in the deserts. She also knows that she needs a sympathetic victim who the Western world will relate to and care about and finds what she needs in Hawa, who was brutalized while teaching English to school children. With Hawa’s story, Maryka has struck gold, but does she invoke retaliation on her source to save lives? Miller interweaves the various storylines
into a gripping story.

Miller has a gift for dramatic tension and she has planted minefields everywhere in this play. The show opens with the main characters huddled in a beat-up Jeep, obviously running for their lives, terrified of each bump on the minefield encrusted roads and psychological detonators at the checkpoints. Cut between the scenes are feisty interchanges between the journalist and her no-nonsense editor, played with relish by Deidra LeWan Starnes.

for the complete DC Theatrescene review, please read here.

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And this great rave in The Washington Jewish Week and their critic, Lisa Traiger:

The “Save Darfur” banners that hang in front of many synagogues have faded and drooped. The insatiable news cycle has long since moved on to another crisis du jour: Afghanistan, Haiti, health care, a congressional sex scandal.

But catastrophe in Sudan rages on. Attacks by various mercenary and military forces on the ground may have ceased, but life there remains grueling with tens of thousands of displaced Sudanese living in refugee camps where surviving the arduous conditions ‹ lack of the most basic necessities like food, sanitation, basic health care ‹ amounts to daily living.

Theater J has long made a point of producing thought-provoking, politically engaged works, and In Darfur playwright and journalist Winter Miller’s 100-minute flashback on the early revelations of genocide in the east African nation is no exception. Finely directed by Derek Goldman, the one-act play unravels in spring 2004 as a reporter tries to verify facts on the ground to confirm genocide in Sudan for her demanding editor.

Featuring two Americans out of their element in the midst of the unfolding military and humanitarian crisis, the play wrestles with essential moral quandaries: racial, tribal and ethnic infighting among the Sudanese; white Western colonialism and its still-present aftereffects; who gets saved and who sacrificed in the chaos of war and escape; and should one life be lost in the hopes of improving many others?

While the play focuses on the white interlopers ‹ Carlos, an American doctor (Lucas Beck), and Maryka, a New York Times reporter on deadline (Rahaleh Nassri) ‹ the most stunning performance comes from Erika Rose, who plays Hawa, a proud Sudanese English teacher who has been raped, tortured and lost her family in an attack on her village. Rose’s rich, buttery voice and her staunch, fearless demeanor mark Hawa as an indelible character, one who loves and needs her country: She won’t relent and leave her Sudanese life behind to begin anew in America.

Joining Rose, the ensemble features Jessica Frances Dukes as her new-found friend, Hamida, and two young men who play multiple roles as Sudanese army militia members, Janjaweed mercenaries and corrupt police officers. Carl James and Brandon White are both fearsome and astoundingly intimidating, and seemingly proficient in barking orders in Arabic as coached by dialect coach Kim James Bey.

While In Darfur features no Jewish characters, this riveting tale of truth-telling in the face of indescribable human tragedy resonates deeply with Jewish sensibilities. It’s not a stretch to associate the starvation, senseless killing, rapes and terror with events of the Holocaust, especially when reporter Maryka accuses the American aide worker of a willful (but understandable) cover-up: “If this were 1943 in Germany, would you do the same thing?”

Miller’s In Darfur tells its story artfully, but, at its essence the play is not art, but provocation, provocation for action and public service. Can theater change lives and even halt a genocide? That question remains unanswered.

In Darfur is onstage at Theater J at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center through April 18. Tickets, $30-$55, are available at 800-494-TIXS or Panel discussions will follow several performances.