I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady From Rwanda (4/13/2008)
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady From Rwanda is an amazing two-person play set in London, England in the modern day. It chronicles one Rwandan refugee’s struggle to write about what happened to her in 1994, and the Englishman who helps her.
While living in England, Juliette (Susan Hayward) meets an aging poet, Simon (Joseph J. Menino), who works at the refugee center part-time. She comes to him for help in getting her book about the Rwandan genocide published. After reading her work, Simon notes that the book is completely—and only—historical and factual, so much so that he asks, “Where are you in all of this, Juliette? Where is your story?”
The rest of the play follows Simon and Juliette as they create a much more personal account—Juliette’s account—of the genocide. They are the only two characters we ever see, but Simon’s wife and Juliette’s younger brother are important off-stage recurring characters. The theater itself is set very sparsely; only a small table and two straight-backed chairs adorn the stage while most other props are brought to life through the actors’ movements.
I found two things especially interesting about the way the play is performed. First, Simon and Juliette tell the audience their thoughts. At one point, Simon “reads” his poetry for a group of people, but instead of the poem, the audience hears an inner monologue—what Simon is thinking while he’s reading aloud to the imaginary audience. He and Juliette both speak as though directly to the (real) audience throughout the play, whether or not the other character is present. Hayward and Menino, however, do a great job clarifying the separation between personal thoughts meant only for their characters (and the audience) and dialogue with one another.
Secondly, even when Juliette and Simon face each other, they also face the audience. For example, when Simon is reading his poetry to an imaginary audience, he faces the actual audience. Juliette, who is part of the imaginary audience, sits near him, but is also facing the real audience. The effect is notable; though they are not looking at one another (or even facing each other), the actors did a great job making the connection between the two characters clear.
Running for ninety minutes without an intermission, I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me By a Young Lady From Rwanda is a beautiful tribute to the humanity within the inhumanity in the Rwandan genocide. I don’t want to spoil the play for those who would like to see it, but let me say it’s certainly worth the watch. I was brought to tears more than once. The play ends with Juliette and Simon reading her the beginning of her book to an imaginary (and the real) audience: “Once upon a time…” belays their hope for a good and humane future. I congratulate the Phoenix Theatre Enemble, Sonja Linden (the playwright), Joseph J. Menino, and especially Susan Hayward for putting together a truly remarkable performance.