It’s been 25 years since the civil war that resulted in genocide against the Tutsi tribe of the East African nation of Rwanda. During a three-month period in 1994, as many as one million Rwandans were killed, including approximately 70 percent of the Tutsi population.
Among those who lived to tell the massacre was Immaculée Ilibagiza, who was hidden by her pastor in a bathroom with five to seven other women and children during the war, surviving primarily on faith. It is a story retold in the one-woman show Miracle in Rwanda, now in production through May 11 at the Lion Theater in New York City, directed by George Drance.
In a gripping production, Rwandan-born, American-trained actress Malaika Uwamahoro—the first Rwandan national to ever headline a play on or off-Broadway—portrays a stunning 15 characters in a deeply emotional recounting of Ilibagiza’s survival. In fact, Uwamahoro is so authentic in Miracle in Rwanda’s numerous roles, one might believe she also wrote the play, but Ilibagiza’s story was originally recounted and performed across five continents by writer and actress Leslie Malaika Lewis, daughter of famed activist and philanthropist Reginald F. Lewis.
“I am so happy to pass on this role to a woman of Rwandan heritage,” Lewis said in a press release. “Malaika is a brilliant actress, and she brings a sensibility that will move and inspire the audience. I can’t wait for the world to see her work.”
In a private performance on Saturday night co-hosted by Essence editor emeritus Susan L. Taylor, Uwamahoro’s captivating performance brought an audience of creative luminaries on a deeply emotional journey. Despite a quarter century, unimaginable brutality and against all odds, Immaculée Ilibagiza’s story is ultimately one of grace and forgiveness—qualities in short supply these days.
Miracle in Rwanda is in production at the Lion Theater in New York City Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets are available now.