Though the title of People's Light and Theatre's
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda
is unwieldy, Sonja Linden's 2003 work is compact. Written for two people, a white man and black woman, the play straddles three countries, a genocide, and 100 years of history by focusing - to its detriment - mostly on the present.
Juliette (Miriam Hyman) is a Tutsi survivor of the genocide perpetrated by her Hutu neighbors, while Briton Simon (David Ingram), a rumpled, writer's-blocked poet, teaches English at a refugee center in an attempt to recover some of his mojo. Though their relationship is the story's least interesting aspect, it was also, perhaps, the easiest to construct. Thus, a significant subplot about Juliette's missing brother appears as an afterthought rather than a driving force.
The script has definite appeal - Juliette and Simon are plagued with engagingly human flaws - but it also stoops far too often to fill its gaps with interracial cliches. Linden's characters spring directly from some lost Athol Fugard notebook, with similar paternalism and resentments, but minus the finesse.
As it turns out, Juliette has written a comprehensive history of her nation. Married Simon is, at first, surprised (so industrious!), then smitten. Juliette is, at first, repelled (so rumpled!), then charmed.
The pair speak to each other, then address the audience, reflecting on the subtext of what they've just said; skillful writing could dispense with this device altogether. Time change is signaled by briefly dimmed lights, and the actors' movement of a pair of benches around the stage, rather than a smooth, imperceptible shifting of gears.
Compounding this problem is Arthur Rotch's spare, drab set: a flat wooden platform, those benches, and a semicircular screen upon which nothing is projected. We get it: She's alienated, he's dessicated. Like Simon, Rotch's empty set makes Juliette into a blank slate, overlooking her lush interior life. And a blank slate doesn't make for interesting theater.
That's too bad, because under David Bradley's direction, Hyman's performance is exuberant and thoughtful, breathing life into Juliette's complex psyche. Ingram, too, turns in a sensitive performance, though his English accent could use some fine tuning.
Linden, who spent time as a writer-in-residence at a British refugee center, was clearly compelled to give voice to the devastating stories she heard during her employ. However, what we learn from her own work is that, given the opportunity, those voices might speak more eloquently on their own.
Through June 22 at People's Light & Theatre Company, 39
Conestoga Rd., Malvern. Tickets: $29 to $48. Information: