“Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Sunday September 6, 2015)

August 27, 2015 | Off-Broadway | Tags: ,
By Ken Urban
Directed by Adam Fitzgerald
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Charles, we must speak directly. I know that your career is not what it was because of the scandal. You were the young star and now all that is changing thanks to this problem. I will not let these nuns go free.” (Paul)

Theatre-goers in New York City have the opportunity to see Ken Urban’s haunting “Sense of an Ending” at 59E59 Theaters through Sunday September 6, 2015. This is a short run of Mr. Urban’s successful play (Theatre503 in London in May-June 2015) and it is playing in the smallest of 59E59 Theater’s performance spaces. As of this writing, three of the performances are sold out and the remaining performances will fill quickly. Therefore, it is imperative you secure tickets to see this remarkable play that raises the enduring and rich questions that challenge not just the broad issues of guilt and innocence but also challenge the larger issues of right and wrong and the ambiguity of morality.

At the core of these questions lies the alleged complicity of two Hutu nuns of the Benedictine Order in the ethnic Hutu extremist mass murder of hundreds Tutsi citizens who sought refuge in the church they served in Kigali Rwanda during the 100 days of Genocide from April 7 to mid-July in 1994. In an attempt to redeem himself and his position at the “New York Times,” Charles (Joshua David Robinson) travels to Kigali and arranges to interview the nuns five years after the murders in the church. They have been imprisoned by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) as they await trial in Belgium.

The play’s the thing here to uncover the conscience of the audience (apologies to Shakespeare) and just as the play within the “Tragedy of Hamlet” uncovers the conscience of Claudius and Gertrude, the audience is “hooked” here into examining its own complicity in the inexorable “crimes against humanity” that occur locally and globally daily. The trial takes place on stage first prior to the transfer of the nuns to Belgium. Ken Urban has skillfully involved the audience in the trial. Audience members become jury and ultimately judge. Charles is unwittingly the defense attorney. Paul (Hubert Point-Du Jour) the RPF corporal assigned to guard the nuns is the prosecutor who calls Dusabi (Danyon Davis) – the only survivor of the church massacre – as the witness for the State. Dusabi purports to know the truth and he hopes his testimony (his private meeting with Charles) will generate justice.

Mr. Urban peels away layer after layer of ecclesiastical “privilege” as Sister Justina (sarcasm reigns!) played with a sinister motherly protection by Heather Alicia Simms and Sister Alice (played with a mix of naiveté and cunning by Dana Marie Ingraham) slowly lose their battle with truth. Sister Justina believes “The truth is what will set us free” but as the “trial” progress it might be the same truth that sets Dusabi’s grieving spirit free (his wife Elizabeth was dismembered by the Hutu and later “passed in her sleep”) and sanctifies Charles’ commitment to journalism and his mentor Dan.

Director Adam Fitzgerald mines every ounce of sheer genius out of his resplendent cast. His staging counterpoints so meticulously with Mr. Urban’s script that “Sense of an Ending” becomes a symphony for the senses. Hubert Point-Du Jour is unimaginably powerful in his role as Paul whose mission to unbridle the truth surpasses understanding. Danyon Davis gives Dusati the perfect balance between his unfathomable rage and grief and his tender love for his country and its people. And Joshua David Robinson manages to free the shackles of shame that have plagued his character Charles’ journalistic career and exposes him to “the blinding light of annihilation and hope of past and future of death and life of pain and the drug that banishes all grief of a truth that burns and burns the darkness forever.”

Ken Urban never disappoints in drawing the audience into important conversations. The frightening possibility that humans kill out of habit just as Paul killed a dog in front of the Kigali church looms large over the audience at the play’s end. There are no easy answers in this play, only difficult questions. No one is fully guilty or fully innocent and as the introductory paragraph of this review indicates even guilt and innocence are called to the witness stand. Moral ambiguity perseveres as it must if humankind is to experience the same catharsis Charles undergoes. In Paul’s words, “You will never forget this.”