May 10 2016 05:37 PM

‘Our Lady of Kibeho’ recalls visitations before Rwanda genocide

Cashae Monya (left) and Imahni King-Murillo in Our Lady of Kibeho
Photo by Daren Scott

A splendid cast telling an incredible and important story. That's Moxie Theatre's ambitious production of Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho, directed by Jennifer Eve Thorn. Whether or not you believe in divine miracles doesn't matter. You will be moved, on multiple emotional levels, by the story of three college girls in the Rwandan town of Kibeho in 1981-82 who claimed to have been visited by the Virgin Mary. The reason for this visitation: to empower the girls with a message of universal love and to warn Rwanda—and the world—of a bloody genocide 12 years later that would claim some 800,000 lives.

Cashae Monya, Tyrah Hunter and Mallory Johnson portray the three girls—Alphonsine, Anathalie and Marie-Claire—whose transfixions, sobbing and even seizures are dismissed by the tough nun overseeing them (Yolanda Franklin), the shaken local bishop (Antonio T.J. Johnson) and an arrogant emissary from the Vatican (Steve Froelich) sent to Kibeho more to prove a hoax than to confirm a visitation. But the poor villagers want to believe and do, while the head of the college, Father Tuyishime (Vimel Sephus) struggles with his duty to the girls and to God. Our Lady of Kibeho is a variously tender and tenacious drama, with cathartic moments of humor and unsettling special effects (by Angelica Ynfante) that drive home the heart of this devastating true story.

Thorn's direction of the cast of 16 is keen from the outset, staging scenes from one half of the Moxie stage to the other with seamless continuity and framing important confrontations (some of them in anger or envy, others affectionate or despairing) that constitute so much of Hall's intricate narrative.

The petite Monya, a veritable Moxie star (The Bluest Eye, Crumbs from the Table of Joy), carries the day, though Sephus' caring Father Tuyishime is a complex and heartfelt characterization. Franklin, meanwhile, is an imposing presence as Sister Evangelique, disbelieving chiefly out of resentment that the Virgin didn't choose her.

What happened in Rwanda 20 years ago should be better remembered and never forgotten. That should include what happened to three young girls in a small town.


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