No one expects heartbreak or high notes from the show’s dueling-gardener dads, who pretend to feud in the hope that their progeny will fall in love to spite them, or from the fraying hacks who turn up like the Players in Hamlet. (The Fantasticks is based on Edmond Rostand’s Les romanesques, but there’s quite a bit of Shakespearean borrowing.) Here the likable if eccentrically dressed Fred Sullivan Jr. and Stephen Berenson are a frisky Mutt & Jeff team as those venerable vegetable-growing vaudevilleans Hucklebee and Bellomy. And as the interloping hams, Brian McEleney, all addled vanity in his Buster Brown wig, and Mauro Hantman, pulling off a dazed death scene with a tomahawk stuck to his face, prove themselves able comedians, though their parts are tiresome. More interesting are the Teller-esque Mute of Brown/Trinity Rep Consortium student Nate Dendy and the more tough and mournful than swashbuckling El Gallo of Joe Wilson Jr., who is also an impressive, unaffected singer. As the young lovers, snug, sundered, and then chastened, Rachael Warren has the starry eyes and the ringing pipes, Stephen Thorne the pompous innocence and the scuffed, brimming heart.
It’s ironic that a play with the awkward mouthful of a title I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda (at Stoneham Theatre through April 22) should turn out to be about the power of writing. In fact, the title of British author Sonja Linden’s two-person drama bursts from its first speech, in which a young refugee from the 1994 Rwandan genocide speaks directly to the audience (a device that recurs throughout). In the country for just five months, she is on her way across London to a refugee center where she will consult its writer-in-residence about the book she has been scribbling while holed up in her barren room at a hostel. In response, she is certain, he will order his secretary to ring up the best publisher in London with the news that “I have before me a remarkable document given to me by a young lady from Rwanda!” This projection bristles with hope — and indicates how little the woman, whose book is written in her native tongue, knows of speaking naturally in English.
The play is rooted in Linden’s seven-year experience as a writer-in-residence at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. It draws in particular on her interaction with a young Rwandan woman whose entire Tutsi family had been murdered by Hutu extremists during the 100-day attempt to wipe the rival ethnic group from the face of their country. Eventually that woman’s near-unbearable tale makes its way into the play. But the central journey of Young Lady from Rwanda lies in the burgeoning relationship of the title character and the floundering British poet working part-time at the refugee center who tries to help her tell her story in a way that is personal and therefore more compelling, rather than as a carefully researched document devoid of her own painful specifics.
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