The play attempts to shine a light on the violent conflict happening in Darfur, the western region of Sudan. Miller's play follows the lives of three people, as they become intertwined, despite their very different roles within the conflict. Hawa is a Darfuri refugee who witnessed the murder of her husband and son, escaped the massacre of her village and survived a gang rape by Janjaweed soldiers, only to learn that she is pregnant. Carlos is the masochistic doctor of a relief hospital who befriends Hawa and holds on to his aide worker neutrality by a threat.
Maryka is a New York Times reporter who will do anything to get the story about the genocide in Darfur on the front page of the Times, above the fold. This includes sacrificing Hawa by revealing her name as well as her story. Over and over, the doctor and the reporter fail to recognize that their actions of good intent and morality cause Hawa harm and could cost her, her life. Meanwhile, Hawa grapples with whether or not to giving birth to a child that may not belong to her husband.
Despite several references to Rwanda, the play asked the audience to get up to speed with the culture quickly. The language of this world is riddle with acronyms, some of which are explained: SLA (Sudan Liberation Army), AU (African Union), JEM (Justice and Equality Movement); others the audience is left to use context clues (MSF, DIP). It keeps the world foreign and infuses a sense of chaos. Yet, at the same time, you feel like keeping it all straight is a matter of life or death for these characters.
There are long patches of exposition, wisely played through Maryka dictating to her editor and true confessions between the doc and the reporter over a rare bottle of liquor. Thankfully, Miller seems to know exactly when to pull away from explaining the convoluted politics and bring the story back into focus on the character's individual and collective dramas.
Perhaps the most impressive quality of Miller's writing is the ability to find great moments of humor. Perhaps the best example of this is a scene with Maryka and her editor where Maryka rants angrily at the end of the call, "How can you be a Black woman and not care what's happening in Africa...." only to learn that the editor is still on the line. (Busted!) The scene ends with a stern reprimand by the editor and a word of advice, next time you want to go off like that, "first hang up the f***king phone."
The scene was hilarious and intense at the same time. Placing something so desperate right beside something so absurd made the emotions of the moment all the more authentic. Moreover, these tension breakers provide the audience with brief breathers from the play's weighty topics.
The eight actors of the reading gave moving performances. Even as they sat side by side, occasionally turning script pages without referring to them, they performed like an ensemble, in their small interactions, their timing. They navigated Miller's stealthy juxtapositions of tragic/comic well and often engaged their entire body with the lines, even as they sat. Sonja Parks' performance of Hawa was both dignified and vulnerable, earning her rightful place at center stage. Kudos also to Annie Enneking (Maryka) and Lee Mark Nelson (Carlos) as the two non-African do-gooders who just can't seem to do good right.
In the post reading discussion, Winter Miller described her play as a piece "... designed so that you could learn (about Darfur) if you did not know anything." Through "In Darfur", she has succeeded in her design. Here's hoping an actually production of her play will soon follow,
Also in the Wurtele Thrust Stage, prior to the staged reading in the Photo Exhibit DARFUR/DARFUR.
The presentation is a traveling exhibit of digitally-projected changing images that provide visual education about the richly multi-cultural region while exposing the horrors of the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
The exhibit is a great primer for the compelling stage reading that follows. Remaining times for the photo exhibit are:
Saturday, January 27
11:30 a.m. through 1 p.m. on continuous loop
6 p.m. through 7 p.m. on continuous loop
Sunday, January 28
5 p.m. through 7 p.m. on continuous loop.