The political drama In Darfur has the power to bring you up short. If your worst problems involve paying the mortgage and keeping up with spiraling gas prices, you'll lose your complacency when you hear of the conditions in Western Sudan in 2004, when Darfuris by the thousands were raped, murdered and "displaced," and tales of babies thrown into bonfires are common. Horizon Theatre's gripping, tasteful production can only hint at the country's level of devastation.
Playwright and New York Times researcher Winter Miller accompanied NYT reporter Nicholas Kristof to Darfur in 2006. Her firsthand experience gives the play impressive levels of authenticity. In Darfur partially fictionalizes real people and events as it depicts a foreign correspondent named Maryka (Elizabeth Wells Berkes) who's trying to find a story that will put the Darfuri "genocide experience" on the Times' front page, and stir the developed world to action. Maryka believes that a brutalized Darfuri English teacher named Hawa (Michele McCullough Hazard) could be her story's golden source and ignores a doctor's (Eric Mendenhall) concerns that Hawa could lose her life if she goes public.
The moral indignation of Miller's play is beyond reproach, but the dramatic action doesn't always have the same steadfast quality. The chronologically scrambled early scenes feel unnecessarily confusing, and Miller's script tends to rely on journalistic clichés such as "This story is going to crack this issue wide open." And despite being a wrenching experience, In Darfur feels like the rare play that's too short, leaving potentially intriguing aspects of the characters underexplored.
Michele McCullough Hazard's heartbreaking performance anchors a capable cast, and Lisa Adler's direction brings out the tension in the final sequence's "action movie" aspects, which include chases and checkpoints. When Maryka haggles with her editor (Yvonne Singh) over such small details as the meaning of "refugee" vs. "internally displaced person," In Darfur powerfully portrays the gulf between America and the Third World. It also reveals how a single news story can't possibly do justice to one nation's crisis. The anger and sorrow In Darfur distills in its audience provides a measure of its success.
For more on local efforts to raise awareness of Darfur, click here.
In Darfur. Through May 11. $15-$30. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. 404-584-7450. www.horizontheatre.com.