In Darfur at Theater J (16 cents)

I know that it doesn’t do much good to post a review of a play seen on the final day of its run, but what can I do?

In Darfur, a play by former New York Times researcher Winter Miller, shows not only how difficult it is to stop a genocide, but how difficult it is just to report on a genocide and get information to the outside world, even when you are on-site, brimming with information, and a New York Times reporter to boot.

There are four main characters. A young American doctor, running away from a failed engagement, working in a UN clinic in Darfur. A female New York Times reporter, on to a big story and putting herself in harm’s way, who just can’t seem to interest her editor. The Times editor, African-American, sitting in her office in New York, worried about stories that cannot be corroborated, or properly sourced. And a Darfuri woman, an English speaking, university educated school teacher, whose class room is invaded, her male students killed and female students raped, whose entirely family is killed, and who is raped and mutilated by six members of the Ganjaweed.

How many genocides has the international community stopped? None that I can think of, and there have probably been none which have been so thoroughly reported, on a contemporary basis, than the one still occurring in Darfur province, Sudan. It is Sudanese v. Sudanese (only one side well armed, and with apparent governmental support), Muslim v. Muslim, “Arab” v. “Black” (those terms being used advisedly, as virtually everyone is apparently black and there is no such thing as an Arab, I am told, other than by self-terminology and way of life, shepherd v. farmer. But, just as in Rwanda, virtually identical Tutsis and Hutus were clearly identified as one or the other, so in Sudan, it has been determined who is black and who is not, and the blacks, being tribal rather than members of an Arab society, are clearly assumed to be less than human by the Arabs.

“In Darfur” is a 90 minute, one-act play, that tells the story very clearly. Hawa, the victim and most central character, is to be pitied for her circumstances, and admired for her accomplishments and strengths. But the other characters, I am afraid, are a little shallow and obvious and stereotypes of themselves. This means that the play, in my mind, is not a first class theatrical effort. But it does not mean that it makes for bad theater. It is gripping and moving and educational and frustrating, and it certainly makes you think. I would (if it were still running) recommend you see it for all of these reasons.

The acting was good, with Erika Rose outstanding as Hawa. The staging was particularly good.

To the extent that In Darfur was meant to tell you a story and perhaps spur you to some action, it is an overwhelming success. To the extent that the playwright’s goal was to write a great piece of dramatic literature, it falls well short.

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