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Dogs of Rwanda

An American writer relives his teenage experiences in Rwanda during the 1994 civil war and genocide in this well performed and presented solo memory play.  

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Dan Hodge stars along with instrumentalist Abou Lion Diarra in a scene from Sean Christopher Lewis’ “Dogs of Rwanda” (Photo credit: Ben Hider)

Darryl Reilly

Darryl Reilly, Critic

Drumming, chimes and scratching all conjure up the atmosphere of war-torn Africa in playwright Sean Christopher Lewis’ dramatic solo play Dogs of Rwanda. It’s being given a superior production in its New York City premiere by Urban Stages.

Dan Hodge commandingly plays the American narrator who has written a book about his youthful experiences in Rwanda during its 1994 civil war and genocide. Mr. Hodge created the role in the 2017 Philadelphia production of the play. The boyish yet mature, and personable Hodge perfectly portrays this young man traumatized by witnessing atrocities. His All-American presence, good looks and charisma energize the grim and familiar material. He enters through the theater and addresses the audience throughout with charm.

Sharing the stage with Hodge is African drummer and instrumentalist Abou Lion Diarra.  While not speaking, Mr. Diarra exhibits great stage presence as he plays his original musical compositions that integrally support Hodge’s performance. The ominous sound of machetes is eerily replicated by Diarra as he scratches on his drum and against a thatched wall.

Dan Hodge in a scene from Sean Christopher Lewis’ “Dogs of Rwanda” (Photo credit: Ben Hider)

Sixteen-year-old Ohioan David Zosia is a high school football player who spends spring break with his cheerleader girlfriend on a Christian religious mission in Rwanda.  They get caught up in the violence that erupts.  Years later after becoming a writer, he publishes a book of his recollections of that time. He receives a letter from someone he knew then who challenges his veracity, “There are untruths here.” The conceit of the play is that Zosia is now setting the record straight in a recorded chronicle to his now ex-girlfriend.

Dead bodies floating in a bloody river, infants bashed against walls and starving dogs shot by soldiers before they can devour corpses are among the horrors described.

“Why are you telling me this?” was the legendary director Mike Nichols’ question that he believed that the audience collectively asks of the creators of films and theater. Though well-written, Dogs of Rwanda comes across as a contrived episode that restates that war is hell.  Mr. Lewis’ approach may be fresh but the subject matter isn’t, and so even with the compelling performances and excellent presentation, the 70-minute show is an artistic draw. Why is Lewis telling us this?

Co-directors Frances Hill and Peter Napolitano mine all of the visual and emotional potential of the play with their varied and energetic staging that integrates the performances with the music and technical elements.

Dan Hodge stars along with instrumentalist Abou Lion Diarra in a scene from Sean Christopher Lewis’ “Dogs of Rwanda” (Photo credit: Ben Hider)

With the rust-colored, jagged-shaped confined playing area set with rocks, a fuel drum and a panel of a straw hut, scenic designer Frank Oliva wonderfully evokes the locale. Video designer Ryan Belock’s lovely images of clouds, grass and birds flying are projected onto a large panel at an angle suspended from the ceiling that atmospherically accompanies the events that are dramatized.

Lighting designer John Salutz employs a neutral brightness that conveys the sense of the present and a swirling palette of hues that strikingly depict the calamitous past.

Dogs of Rwanda succeeds on many crucial levels but one’s enjoyment of it depends on if one is the in mood for a bleak theatrical travelogue without an imperative purpose.

Dogs of Rwanda (through March 31, 2018)

Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit

Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Darryl Reilly
About Darryl Reilly (460 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

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