'Miracle' an act of survival

Times Staff Writer

The space is taped out on the floor: 3 feet by 4 feet. That's the size of the tucked-away bathroom that hid as many as eight Rwandan women during the bloody three months of 1994 that left an estimated 800,000 dead.

Immaculee Ilibagiza, then 24, was one of the occupants of that unnoticed room in a local pastor's home. Her survival story is reenacted by Leslie Lewis Sword in the one-woman "Miracle in Rwanda," being performed through Sunday as part of a multicultural festival launching the New LATC.

Eyes swimming with fear, the actress barely dares to breathe while the sounds of crashing and shattering from other parts of the pastor's home indicate the presence of machete-wielding thugs looking for escapees. Simply yet effectively, she individualizes an overwhelmingly monstrous piece of recent history. Yet committed as her work is, it's so compressed in this hourlong presentation that the implications of any given situation don't have time to sink in before the story rushes on to the next event.

Created by onetime UCLA theater student Lewis Sword in partnership with director Edward Vilga, "Miracle in Rwanda" is told almost entirely through the power of suggestion. The stage is bare but for the bathroom's taped outline. News broadcasts and sound effects create context, while the lights turn red to indicate bloodshed or narrow to a concentrated beam to indicate the confines of the hiding place.

Everything else is up to the actress. She lowers the register of her voice and reshapes her face to become Ilibagiza's worried father; she yips a war cry and swings an imaginary machete to portray a local thug; and she seems to fold in on herself as she huddles within the taped outline, the merest stretch of her arms indicating the luxury of any sort of movement in the place where Ilibagiza hid for 91 days while Hutus hacked to death their Tutsi neighbors.

Performed this year as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the show, co-directed by Schele Williams, is populated with profoundly human characters, particularly the Hutu pastor, whose initial reaction to finding frightened, hunted Tutsis on his doorstep isn't saintly self-sacrifice but a blurted "It is too much."

Ilibagiza keeps up her courage by reciting the Lord's Prayer, though she keeps getting hung up on the part about forgiving those who "trespass against us." She -- and we -- must make a journey of faith to reach the end of the prayer and its liberating words, "deliver us from evil."




'Miracle in Rwanda'

Where: The New LATC, 514 S. Spring St., downtown L.A.

When: 8 today, 3 p.m. Sunday

Price: $28

Contact: (323) 461-3673 or www.thenewlatc.com

Running time: 1 hour

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