Our Lady of Kibeho: In brief
Katori Hall (Hurt Village) continues her Signature residency with a drama set in rural Rwanda in 1981, where a schoolgirl claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. Upheaval follows. Michael Greif (Rent) directs.
Our Lady of Kibeho: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Faith is contagious at Katori Hall’s thrilling new play, Our Lady of Kibeho. In a remote Rwandan village in 1981, barefoot teenager Alphonsine (Nneka Okafor) claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. Her peers at school, including the domineering Marie-Claire (Joaquina Kalukango), are skeptical—it doesn’t help that Alphonsine is Tutsi, whereas the others are mostly Hutu—as are the kindly Father Tuyishime (Owiso Odera) and the perpetually cross Sister Evangelique (Starla Benford). But a second girl, Anathalie (Mandi Masden), soon shares Alphonsine’s holy vision and then a third girl, and word of their prophecy starts reaching their town. Are they liars or hysterics? Are they witches or possessed? Or could they be telling a truth that no one, including the variously vested interests of the Church, wants to hear?
Like Hall’s Hurt Village, Our Lady of Kibeho is unabashedly wide in scale and traditional in approach (though it veers in surprising directions). In a welcome change from the stingy dramatic economy of many new plays, this one wants to wow you, and it does. There are 15 very fine actors in Michael Greif’s sterling production at the Signature and moments of wonderful stagecraft, including a breathtaking Act I finale. (The second act draws gasps of its own, notably when a world-wearied Vatican investigator, played by the invaluable T. Ryder Smith, interrogates the girls.) At times, Our Lady of Kibeho suggests an inside-out version of The Crucible, and like Arthur Miller’s classic, it resounds beyond its own plot; questions of poverty, sexism and interethnic tension echo throughout the story. Hall’s passionate play renews belief in what theater can do: It awakens you into a trance.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE Hall casts light on what we may not choose to see.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam