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Review: Maria Kizito

Will Coviello on a drama about a Rwandan nun who participated in a massacre of 7,000 Tutsis in the 1970s



Rwandan nun Maria Kizito says one of the certainties of being a nun is knowing what type of shoes she'll wear for the rest of her life. It's a strangely funny observation given that what the audience really wants to know is why she participated in the genocidal massacre that ultimately killed 7,000 Tutsis in 1994. She's the enigmatic namesake of Erik Ehn's drama about her role in the killing and trial in Belgium. The show was recently presented by ArtSpot Productions and Soulographie at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts.

  The drama is framed by the journey of an American nun (Kathy Randels) to the trial in Belgium. She is shocked that a nun could facilitate the mutilation and burning of Rwandans who sought refuge at a convent. A small group of Rwandan nuns share accounts of the routine activities in the days leading up to the massacre. Kizito (Esther Brenda Tebandeke) helps admit people seeking refuge at the monastery, and she compiles lists of who is Tutsi and who is Hutu. She is accused of denying food to women with babies and of spending a great deal of time with a Hutu soldier, bringing him beer. Hutu soldiers sweep into the area, killing thousands at an area health center and the religious compound.

  Maria Kizito combines poetic snippets, text and information from the trial, songs, some suggesting a choir and prayer rituals at the convent, and a sparse but effective set of props by Jeff Becker, including a rolling altar, large yellow plastic gas containers and a makeshift radio broadcast station. The work is very effective at evoking the convent and Rwandan town.

  There are many skilled and polished contributions. The acting is solid, much of the group singing is good and the pace measured and appropriate. Dan Zimmer and Danielle Ash provide excellent lighting effects.

  Several stark moments bring the violence into focus, but most of the work is not gruesome. Kizito is a baffling figure, who facilitates mass murder very willingly and is angry that some victims ripped up their money, but her motivations and explanations are opaque. Framing the work with the American nun's pilgrimage to the trial seems to focus the work on issues of faith, but it's never clear if Kizito had strong religious convictions, or even a good grasp of her faith, which seems to defeat the script's purpose.

  There are no easy answers about how to prevent such genocidal acts or apply justice. ArtSpot and Soulographie vigorously engage difficult material, and it's a rewarding piece, even if the work's focus seems misplaced.

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