Latrel Crawford, Carolyn Nelson, Almedia Lee Exum, and Monette McLin with the cast of in Sideshow Theatre Company's U.S. premiere of Truth and Reconciliation, written by Debbie Tucker Green and directed by Jonathan L. Green.
Latrel Crawford, Carolyn Nelson, Almedia Lee Exum, and Monette McLin with the cast of in Sideshow Theatre Company's U.S. premiere of Truth and Reconciliation, written by Debbie Tucker Green and directed by Jonathan L. Green.
(© Jonathan L. Green)

Truth and Reconciliation, stylized in the program all in lowercase, shares a name with the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an agency established to heal the nation in the wake of apartheid, but its scope goes far beyond South Africa. From the Troubles in Northern Ireland to the Rwandan genocide, Truth and Reconciliation compresses 22 characters, 30 years, and five countries into a one-act on a bare stage. The product is a compelling, if somewhat crowded, hour of theater.

Playwright Debbie Tucker Green (also styled in lowercase) chooses not to show the historic acts of violence themselves, focusing instead on their aftermath. There is no lack of agony, of course. In Bosnia, two Serbian soldiers (played by Sean Wiberg and Michael Holding) are confronted by a victim of their war crimes (Isabel Thompson). In Zimbabwe, a husband (Ian Martin) waits to learn the consequences of his imprisoned, political dissident wife (Tiffany Oglesby). These people, largely nameless, speak in riddles. Their dialogue echoes not only within their own scenes, but throughout the play's other storylines.

Adroitly staged by director Johnathan L. Green, the five stories intercut quickly: Some scenes last only a minute or two before they are interrupted by another narrative across the globe. The large ensemble remains onstage throughout, waiting and watching on hard wooden chairs. Truth and Reconciliation is not a play that lets anybody rest comfortably. As the characters are denied certainty, so is the audience. Some emotional moments fail to land, victims of the harried pacing, but the overall affect is unsettling in the most appropriate way.

Though the momentum of events is not always perfectly timed, the piece is full of strong performances. Standouts in the cast include David Lawrence Hamilton as a Tutsi victim of Hutu violence, Monette McLin as an obstinate South African woman in mourning, and Ann James and Jennifer Matthews as a pair of Irish mothers who must face their sons' actions.

Dialect designer Eva Breneman must be commended for taking on the tremendously challenging script, though sometimes specifics get lost in poor diction, particularly with the youth actors. Yu Shibagaki's barebones set features walls adorned with graffitied locations and years, which serve as a silent tour guide when spotlighted by Jared Gooding's practical lighting design.

There aren't any easy answers in Truth and Reconciliation: not for the characters, and not for the audience. Green's script is at turns frustrating and perplexing, but always poetic and sharply affective.