Over the years, Toronto audiences have seen two productions of Canadian playwright Colleen Wagner’s award-winning ‘The Monument’, set in a country that has undergone Genocide.
But the current version, the final offering of this season’s World Stage at Harbourfront Centre, has a personal resonance for the producing company.
Because of events in 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwandan troupe Isôko Theatre understands only too well the horrors of Genocide, and the power of their version of ‘The Monument’ is fully felt by the show’s end.
That power takes a while to be felt, though, for a number of reasons. Translated from English to Kinyarwanda and performed with subtitles, the production expands on Wagner’s original two-hander, in which a soldier convicted of rape and murder is turned over to a mysterious woman who offers him his life if he performs everything she says.
Director Jennifer H. Capraru adds two other female figures – I won’t give any spoilers here – as well as song, dance and drumming to enrich the story and its telling.
Young soldier Stetko (Jean Paul Uwazeyuk) proudly admits his rapes and murders, 23 in all, taking pleasure in the virgins but sadly admitting that he’s never had the chance to make love to his girlfriend.
He had no choice but to do what he did, he explains, in a country where a man had to enlist or be seen as an enemy sympathiser; later, his going against military orders would have meant his death.
Stetko begins to have different thoughts when he’s put in the hands of Mejra (Jaqueline Umubyeyi), who has her own hidden agenda in questioning Stetko and searching his past actions. Calling herself Stetko’s executioner as well as his saviour, Mejra seeks the truth for herself and for her prisoner.
Alternating some stomach-turning disclosures, stylized violence and moments of tenderness, Capraru takes these two characters on an open-ended journey that might lead to some kind of forgiveness on both sides.
The performance becomes gripping about halfway in, when the other two figures (Solange Liza Umuhire and Ruth Nirere) become more defined.