Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Overwhelming"

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note: entire contents copyright 2009 by Larry Stark

"The Overwhelming"

by J. T. Rogers
Directed by Shawn LaCount

Set Design by Sean Cote
Costume Design by Kathleen Doyle
Lighting Design by Kenneth Helvig
Sound Design by Arshan Gailus
Dramaturg Anne G. Morgan
Artistic Associate Max Mondi
Assistant Dialect Coach Danny Bryck
Dialect Coach Christine Hamel
Technical Director Mark Abby VanderZee
Assistant Production Manager Alyssa McKeon
Production Manager by Sarah Cohan
1st Assistant Stage Manager Olivia MacFadden-Elliott
2nd Assistant Stage Manager Christine DeLima
Stage Manager Jillian Levine

Jack Exley......................Doug Bowen-Flynn
Geoffrey Exley......................Gabe Goodman
Linda White-Keeler.............Lyndsay Allyn Cox
Charles Woolsey/Red Cross Doctor.....Peter Brown
Jean-Claude Buisson/Jan Vanderbeek....Mason Sand
Un Major/Market Man/Policeman...Chima Chikazunga
Joseph Gasana/Waiter/Orderly........Cedric Lilly
Elise Kayitesi/Rwandan Doctor.......Obehi Janice
Samuel Mizinga......................John Adekoje
Gerard/Market Man/Man at Party......Tory Bullock
Emiritha/Waitress/Market Woman.....Fenda Jacquet

This week the Boston Center for The Arts is giving thoughtful theater-goers a rare opportunity to see not one but two serious plays about America's involvement in world politics, both playing across the lobby from one another in the same building. Each is set in places the average Bostonian knows next to nothing about --- J. T. Rogers' "The Overwhelming" in Kigali (Rwanda) in 1994; Craig Wright's "Lady" in Bethany (Illinois) in 2006. Both are intense and very well-produced, excellently acted, viscerally informative plays that, oddly enough, turn on the same bottom-line: politics only becomes relevant when the life of your own teen-age son hangs in the balance.

In his play "The Overwhelming" J. T. Rogers has put together a classic of intrigue: a college poli-sci teacher (Doug Bowen-Flynn) and his second wife (Lyndsay Allyn Cox) --- both researching to write books --- come to Rwanda with his 17-year-old son (Gabe Goodman); each of them sees the country (already in upheaval; it's 1994) through the eyes of different natives. There is an avalanche of fact and interpretation, all of it in conflict, with people on all sides insisting "Open your eyes! You're not in America anymore!" And when the boiling animosities explode in overwhelming terror, the choice of who will die sends all their different values to the wall.

The teacher is an idealist, expecting that his thesis will not only get him tenure but will publicize and make famous a doctor (Cedric Lilly) who is trying to stem the tide of AIDS/malaria --- impartially. The writer is waiting for a "Ping!" to make this sprawling African country into her comprehensible book. Her informant (John Oluwole Adekoje) is a political leader already picking enemies of his country. The son (Gabe Goodman) is an adolescent --- at war with his dad for marrying a new wife only three years after his mother died --- who is busy trying to grow up. His informant (Tory Bullock) is their house-servant, who hides everything, even to the fact that he speaks and understands English. Each of them has a piece of the truth, and the jigsaw-pieces never fit.

As the teacher tries to find the doctor-friend who invited him to Rwanda, the three visitors talk with a sprawling panoply of residents: White, Black, European, doctors, policemen, prostitutes, U.N. officials, bartenders, street-vendors, Hutu, Tutsi. Everywhere the response is the same: "Stop thinking you're still in America!" You must take sides, but whatever side you choose will probably be wrong --- and to choose wrong means death.

Sean Cote's set is simple platforms on several levels, across which Kenneth Helvig's lights move the action swiftly from scene to place to quick insight. Kathleen Doyle's often colorful costumes do as much as Shawn LaCount's clear direction to peg each individual instantly in place on the social spectrum. This boiling war of conflicting "facts" will make any American think ---and Dramaturg Anne G. Morgan has put a detailed two-page history of Rwanda into the program that may "Open your eyes!" After this play, you're not in America anymore.

I hope the people performing "The Overwhelming" and "Lady" can find ways of crossing the lobby separating their shows to see what's happening on the other side of the building. I hope audiences also will do the same. Both plays demand to be seen.

( a k a larry stark )

"The Overwhelming" (30 October - 21 November)
@ Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, BOSTON, MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide