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Local playwright remembers Rwandan genocide

BY DEVYN YOUNG | JANUARY 22, 2015 5:00 AM

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Between April and July of 1994, more than 800,000 people were murdered in the small East African country of Rwanda. Those killed were members of the Tutsi ethnic minority and their supporters, and it took nearly 100 days for the world to turn its attention to the atrocities.

Twenty years after Rwandan genocide, the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., is hoping to spread even more awareness of this dark moment in history with the play Dogs of Rwanda. 

Dogs of Rwanda, written and performed by University of Iowa MFA playwright and Working Group Theatre artistic director Sean Christopher Lewis, will première at the Englert at 7 p.m. Friday with tickets starting at $10. The show is presented as part of the Englert’s “In the Raw” series. 

Dogs of Rwanda tells the story of a 16-year-old boy named David who is a church missionary in Uganda. He follows a girl into the Rwandan woods to help a local boy. The play follows the book David wrote regarding his experiences of trying to save the boy. 

In 2011, Lewis — who has written, performed, and directed plays around the world — traveled to Rwanda to work on a theater piece with children who had been orphaned by the genocide 17 years earlier. 

“Most were too young to remember it, but everywhere you went you saw remnants of it, heard stories, saw survivors,”Lewis said. “It was harrowing and life-changing.”  

Jennifer Fawcett, the cofounder of the Working Group Theater, wrote the first play in the In the Raw series as well as traveled with Lewis to Rwanda. 

Both Fawcett and Lewis describe the story as more than a performance, but a show that asks important questions about forgiveness. 

“So forgiveness was interesting to me,” Lewis said. “I come from a Judeo-Christian background, and I thought what would it be like if missionaries got caught up in this … but the idea of how we forgive and what is unforgivable became the crux.” 

The In the Raw series is different from most shows performed at the Englert. Andre Perry, the Englert executive director, said it’s a chance for Iowa City audiences to experience a different type of show. 

“It’s an opportunity to get more experimental, or progressive, theater to the great community of Iowa City,” he said. 

The audience is placed on the stage with the actors, creating a more intimate experience. There are also very little technical effects. 

“We were interested in stripping new plays down to their bare essentials, the story and the words and letting those carry the audience away through the story,” Fawcett said. 

All three agree that Dogs of Rwanda has an effect on our society today. 

“It’s a different way of experiencing history and talking about and viewing our world,” Lewis said. 
Fawcett agreed. 

“It asks the questions about who has the right to tell stories when perceptions of events are different and memories can change,” she said. 

“The piece has fascinating questions at the core while still being entertainment,” Lewis added. “It’s a great story. That’s the only reason to see anything.” 


THEATER
Dogs of Rwanda
Where: Englert, 221 E. Washington
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Admission: $10


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