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I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given To Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda a CurtainUp Los Angeles review CurtainUp
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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given To Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda


My book is the story of what happened to me and my people. --- Juliette


Erica
Erica Tazel in I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given To Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda (Photo: Michael Lamont)
Sonja Linden's I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given To Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda possesses an unexpected brevity and lightheartedness, despite the somewhat weighty title. Linden insists her sixteen word title is necessary and a "deliberate challenge to our short attention span where Rwanda is concerned." Unfortunately, she may scare away the very viewers who should really experience this powerful play which gives us a chance to reflect on the events that took place in April 1994 while the world turned its back.

The plot is simple, allowing us to jump right into the lives of our two characters. Juliette has escaped Rwanda (we find out how later in the show) and now lives in London. Her expenses are paid for by charity and the goodness of those around her. Simon is a poet without inspiration. He has agreed to teach at a multicultural center to encourage refugees to write and share their stories. He is startled when his first client, Juliette, appears with a book ready to publish, eager for guidance and a frank assessment as to whether it will be any good. She insists that Simon help her so that she can share her story with the world. Their first meeting goes horribly, and Juliette is reluctant to continue her work with this unmannered professor who writes "poetry""instead of novels. Nevertheless, as Simon urges Juliette to explore language and expression, making the book more powerful and engaging, he "falls in love" with Juliette--not in a sexual way (they are, after all, years apart in age) but emotionally. Juliette becomes his inspiration, a story of beauty escaping tragedy, and Simon begins writing poetry once again.

The stage, bare and gray, provides a ready foundation for Juliette and Simon to create various settings with their words. However, the complete lack of color occasionally washes out the actors. Although Juliette sees her world in grays until Simon helps her create more vivid pictures, the set need not have mirrored her vision so literally. The direction, however, works well by moving Juliette and Simon up and down the small levels created by the set design. Using the space under the stage to store set pieces and various costumes helps the actors weave in and out of different settings effortlessly. We never need more than a picnic blanket to imagine a seaside lunch. When Juliette finally reveals her story, we have become so used to creating images that it's easy to imagine the tragedy, although Linden is careful to balance the atrocities that Juliette faced with her new life and opportunities.

Although the writing is strong, the acting is the highlight of the show. Erica Tazel shines as Juliette, and Louis Lotorto turns Simon into a sympathetic and richly nuanced character. Lotorto combines just the right elements of humor and compassion for us to feel completely in his corner, even as he discusses marital problems at home and displays a complete lack of understanding where Juliette is concerned. Tazel balances him wonderfully with beauty and grace, providing Juliette with a strong presence and playing both humor and tragedy with ease.

While Simon assumes he understands Rwandan refugee Juliette he comes to realize that although he can sympathize, he will never know the pain or horror that Juliette has experienced. We in the audience, too, acknowledge that although we are watching these actors, it is far more important to remember the plight of the real people who experienced such tragedy.

I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given To Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda
Playwright: Sonja Linden
Director: David Rose
Cast: Erica Tazel and Louis Lotorto
Set Design: David Potts
Costume Design: A. Jeffrey Schoenberg
Lighting Design: Don Guy
Sound Design: Cricket Myers
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
The Colony Theatre Company, 555 North Third Street, Burbank, (818) 558-7000 or www.colonytheatre.org
From 8/19/06 to 9/17/06
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Additional performances on August 26 and September 2, 7, 14.
Tickets: $32 to $42. Call
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on 8/22/06.

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