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Sense of an Ending

An engrossing drama exploring the Rwandan Genocide set in 1999 as a NY Times reporter investigates charges of heinous collaboration against two nuns.

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Heather Alicia Simms and Joshua David Robinson in a scene from Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Heather Alicia Simms and Joshua David Robinson in a scene from Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

“Do not trust these nuns,” cautions a young Rwandan corporal to a journalist investigating the charges of genocidal collaboration against two Catholic sisters in Ken Urban’s engrossing play, Sense of an Ending.

Set in 1999, this historical drama has the elements of a Graham Greene novel:  a flawed hero seeking redemption amidst foreign intrigue, exploration of a civil war, and characters who may or may not be telling the truth.

The play is structured as a series of crisp short scenes and we meet Charles, an African-American reporter for The New York Times trying to repair his reputation that was damaged by charges of plagiarism; Paul, a young corporal in the Rwandan Patriotic Front; the accused Sisters Justina and Sister Alice; and Dusabi, the lone survivor of a massacre.

Mr. Urban does an excellent job of dramatizing and explaining a complex historical situation in this fictional treatment of a real case.  In 1994, Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana died when his plane was shot down.  This assassination instigated a brutal tribal conflict between the majority Hutus who blamed Tutsi extremists for the death of the Hutu president.  Varying estimates of the death toll range from 500,000 to 1,000,000.

The Hutu nuns are accused of giving supplies including fuel to the military and thus aiding in the massacre of hundreds of Tutsi civilians who had taken refuge in their convent.  They are set to go on trial in Belgium due to that nation’s global jurisdiction over serious violations of the Geneva Conventions.

During the course of Paul’s interviews with the other characters, these facts are imparted and a Rashomon style narrative emerges with conflicting flashback accounts of what actually happened and who was responsible.

Joshua David Robinson (on ground) and Danyon Davis (above) in a scene from Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Joshua David Robinson (on ground) and Danyon Davis (above) in a scene from Ken Urban’s “Sense of an Ending” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Authoritatively directed by Adam Fitzgerald with bold flourishes and great attention to the performances, this production is taut and richly theatrical.  The small stage is surrounded by two rows of seats on three sides and the audience is drawn into the proceedings as if they were witnessing a hearing.

David L. Arsenault’s scenic design simply and strikingly renders the terrain with four small benches that are rearranged suggesting a prison, the convent, and other locales.  Double, old wooden doors with a cross on each dominate the major wall of the playing area.  Above the stage hanging from rods are a multitude of garments that perhaps symbolize the victims of the massacre.

The inspired lighting and sound design of Travis McHale and Christian Frederickson, respectively, vividly convey the sense of the past and present with eerie effects. Sharp blackouts, strobe light sequences, and evocative sound effects aesthetically combine to create an enveloping environment.

In addition to their principal roles some of the accomplished company appear in smaller parts throughout the play. The very fine Joshua David Robinson as Charles is engagingly straightforward.  With calibrated flashiness, Hubert Point-Du Jour wonderfully makes the most of the wily and pragmatic Paul.  Danyon Davis animatedly captures the anguish and dignity of Dusabi and is quite moving.

Dana Marie Ingraham and Heather Alicia Simms are mesmerizing as Sisters Alice and Justina, the catalysts of the play. These excellent actresses very skillfully create detailed portraits of these very different women.  A climactic clash between them where previously hidden feelings are expressed is electrifying.

Produced earlier in the year in London, this American premiere of Sense of an Ending is a noble and highly realized theatrical docudrama that keenly brings attention to a modern tragedy.

Sense of an Ending (through September 6, 2015)

kef theatrical productions

59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org

Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission

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Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (608 Articles)
A native New Yorker, Darryl Reilly graduated from NYU with a BFA in Cinema Studies. For the Broadway League, (formerly The League of American Theatres and Producers) he developed, and for five years conducted their Broadway Open House Tours, which took visitors through The Theatre District and into several Broadway theaters. He contributed to Broadway Musicals Show by Show: Sixth Edition (Applause Books). Since 2013, he has reviewed theater, cabaret, and concerts for Theaterscene.net.

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