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Theater Review: "Our Lady Of Kibeho"

Monya, Johnson, Hayes, Johnston, Hunter, Franklin, Dodson
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

The horrific ethnic genocide in mid-1990s Rwanda left some one million Tutsis dead at the hands of the then-ruling Hutus.

Tatori Hall’s “Our Lady Of Kibeho” tells a fictionalized version of a strange incident that happened in 1981 to three schoolgirls in the village of Kibeho, that seemed to presage the bloodshed to come. Moxie Theatre gives the play its West Coast premiere through May 29.

At Kibeho College (a local school for girls), Alphonsine (Cashae Monya) was the first to see what she said were visions of the Virgin Mary.

Hearing of this, Sister Angelique (Yolanda Franklin) angrily relates Alphonsine’s “vision” to the school’s headmaster, Father Tuyishime (Vimel Sephus), insisting that “She is a liar! She must be punished!” The headmaster sends for an investigator from the Holy See.

Alphonsine, who describes herself as “a dirt-poor girl with no shoes, no friends and no father,” doesn’t know what to make of the visions either, but she is convinced they are real. Soon classmate Anathalie (Tyrah Hunter) begins to have visions as well.

Sister Angelique puts power-hungry student Marie-Claire (Mallory Johnson) on Alphonsine’s case, hoping for evidence that she’s a phony. But when Marie also begins to have visions – and the girls (now called the Trinity) claim the Virgin has a message for the villagers – news spreads and villagers begin to gather to see these visionaries.

Are they fakes or prophets? Or just hysterical girls? The play is based on a real case, but it’s up to you to decide.

If these are questions that fascinate you, then you might like this play. As for me, I’ve seen voodoo rituals in Haiti and crowds screaming for blood in the streets of any number of cities. I’ve seen Donald Trump rallies on TV. To me, these are all evidence that people can work themselves up into a frenzy at the drop of a hat.

I’ve also seen people speaking in tongues and heard about people “seeing” the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast. Some think these reflect another order of experience. I don’t think so. I’m sorry to say I found myself looking at my watch. Call me a heathen.

In the second act, Father Flavia (Steve Froehlich) from the Vatican arrives to investigate the Trinity phenomenon, giving playwright Hall a chance to dally with topics like religious hypocrisy: the local bishop, wonderfully played by Antonio TJ Johnson, has both a “wife” and economic reasons for wanting the Vatican to certify the girls as visionaries (“Do you know how many people visited Fatima after those three children saw the Virgin Mary?”). Fear of the unknown, mob psychology and religious fervor also figure in, but most seem a bit tacked on.

Director Jennifer Eve Thorn has a splendid cast, all giving believability a Herculean try, but it’s difficult for me to take any of it seriously, despite the fine acting and production.

Kudos to set designer Divya Murthy Kumar for a versatile set that converts easily and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the action. Christopher Renda’s lighting and Melanie Chen’s sound and projection design contribute to the creepiness factor.

The saying that a prophet has no honor in his own land is at least as old as the Bible. If this is a topic that interests you, “Our Lady Of Kibeho” is for you.

The details

“Our Lady Of Kibeho” plays through May 29, 2016 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd. Suite N.           

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm.; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (858) 598-7620 or www.moxietheatre.com