I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady from Rwanda
By Sonja Linden. Dir. Andrea J. Dymond. With Yetide Badaki and Lance Baker. Victory Gardens Theater.
Imagine a play in which a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, who’d watched her entire family get slaughtered and had been left for dead under a pile of corpses, comes to America as a refugee. She prays peacefully every night before bed, helps a conflicted academic novelist complete his book and eventually finishes her own memoir to overcome her recurring nightmares of the terrible ordeal. In less than two years. To say that real Holocaust survivors might find fault with its accuracy is probably understating it.
So now we have the award-winning, falsely hopeful I Have BeforeMe a Remarkable Document…, a play in which a Tutsi survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide is aided by a soggy British literary professor. Even as played by actors as fine as Badaki and Baker, these completely unbelievable people who “learn and grow from each other” are two-dimensional at best, and reveal themselves to each other in a shamelessly schematic fashion.
Remarkable Document presents itself as a political work and asks to be judged as such. Although playwright Linden clearly has the finest intentions—the play was based on her own noble work with Rwandan refugees—she’s incapable of making Badaki’s character the hero of her own story; a vaguely charitable white man must get the credit for her recovery. Linden says she’s heard complaints about the length of her title, but to us it’s the first-person pronouns that are the giveaway.—Christopher Piatt