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  • The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia
  • Jean Graham-Jones (bio)
The Theatre of Genocide: Four Plays about Mass Murder in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia, and Armenia, and Intro. (Robert Skloot ed., Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), 226 pp. ISBN 0299224708 (cloth), ISBN 0299224740 (paper)

The Theatre of Genocide is a recent contribution to an emergent canon of plays about mass murder and disappearance. All four of the collected plays—each one written in the past eight years—present what editor Robert Skloot terms "retrospective assessments of specific historical [End Page 807] genocides."1 In his introduction, "The Light of Dead Stars," Skloot retraces genocide's genealogy and argues for the inclusion of the theatre of genocide—deemed synonymous with "antigenocidal playwriting"—as complementary to and promotional of Raphael Lemkin's own "political advocacy." Skloot regards the theatre of genocide as an "engaged art" whose authors' purpose is "to bring audiences closer to recent and distant historical periods of violence through the dynamics of theatre performance."2

The four plays are organized in chronological order according to the date(s) of the specific genocide under examination and thus span the twentieth century. Several of the plays are supplemented by chronologies and brief histories, useful for the unfamiliar reader.

Exile of the Cradle, by Lorne Shirinian, centers on the diaspora that resulted from the 1915–1923 Armenian genocide. Act one's action takes place in Constantinople on 26 April 1915, two days after the genocide's commencement. It features Pierre, a poet captured by the Young Turk government, on a train headed for his extermination. Through Pierre's conversations with his compartment companion—a formerly prosperous food merchant—and the man in charge of the deportation, we learn of the campaign and current situation. The act ends just as Pierre decides to escape. In the accompanying essay, "Towards an Armenian Diaspora Theatre," Shirinian reflects upon his play's complex portrayal of multiple generations that reinforces and questions "the extent to which 'the old country' offers a regulating framework for their transplanted diaspora identities." 3 Through multiple generations of artists, he considers his own role in the diaspora's ongoing (re)construction of its genocidal history.

Silence of God, by Catherine Filloux, author of multiple plays about Cambodia, shifts our focus to a different protagonism. It begins and concludes in 1998, the year of the United States plot to have Pol Pot's adversary Ta Mok hand over the dictatorin hiding. Like her other plays, Silence of God places, in the author's words, "fictional characters in a fact-based story."4 Sarah Holtzmann, a US journalist and the privileged daughter of the man formerly in charge of the UN peacekeeping mission in Cambodia, is interviewing Pol-Pot, who midway through the initial scene is transformed into the poet Heng Chhay. Sarah is the only character not doubled, as the remaining roles are played by two actors, one explicitly described as "Asian" (playing Pol Pot's victims as well as Ta Mok) and the other left undefined (but assigned "Western" roles as well as that of Ieng Sary, former Khmer Rouge leader and currently under tribunal arrest). Silence of God, with its fluid characterizations and lyric yet pointed language, avoids easy answers about the nature of and responsibility for genocide, in whose perpetuation and potential cessation, Filloux suggests, we are all implicated.

Patch of Earth, by playwright and journalist Kitty Felde, was inspired by her 1996 experience attending the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), and takes as its central character Dražen Erdemovíc, the first person to be sentenced by the tribunal. [End Page 808] Erdemovíc pleaded guilty to war crimes, did not have a trial but was sentenced to ten years in prison, and was released in 2000 when, upon appeal, his term was halved. The one play in the collection that comes closest to the established genre of "documentary theatre" (perhaps best exemplified in plays such as Peter Weiss's 1965 The Investigation, based on Frankfurt's Auschwitz trial documents), A Patch of Earth interpolates court-room scenes taken directly from ICTY transcripts with...


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