Thursday, February 17, 2011

As our story begins

Herewith a character breakdown and spoiler-free synopsis...

The characters (in order of appearance):

David  a white American zookeeper
Will   a black American neurosurgeon
Cinzia   a white Italian-Swiss internist
Leah   a white American journalist
Rose   a black Rwandan storekeeper
Marie-Claire   a black Rwandan farmer

The play takes place in Oakland, California; Goma, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo); and Kigali, Rwanda. It begins in late August of 1994, less than two months after the conclusion of the Rwandan genocide. Hundreds of thousands have fled the country, while others have returned after decades in exile. Overcrowding in refugee camps across the Zairean border has led to deadly outbreaks of cholera, and belated pangs of conscience have inspired Western governments and NGOs to help the refugees as they failed to help the victims of the genocide.

Will has temporarily abandoned his residency in neurosurgery to join the efforts of Doctors Without Borders (aka Médecins Sans Frontières, aka MSF). He hopes to help "his people," but what he sees in Goma threatens to shatter his idealism and harden his heart. He finds a prickly kind of solace in the company of his seasoned colleague Cinzia, who despises the "fecking French" but makes her peace moment to moment with the horrifying ironies of her work.

In Kigali, Marie-Claire has lost almost everything and everyone she cherished. Turned out of her home, she survives on the sufferance of reluctant strangers: Rose and Joseph, native Rwandans who have spent most of their lives as refugees in Uganda. Marie-Claire cannot yet decide whether she is alive or a ghost, but the baby now growing inside her makes the question an urgent one.

Meanwhile, Will's girlfriend, Leah, hasn't heard from him since he left Oakland. As the weeks drag on, she finds it more and more difficult to keep faith. When her work introduces her to a scruffily charismatic elephant keeper, David, she succumbs to her old sense of vertigo and falls hard.