Although the production is just over an hour long, “Children of Killers,” playing now at the Castillo Theatre on West 42nd Street, is packed with stunning information about the Rwandan genocide in Africa. Playwright Katori Hall should be commended on the research she did when attending a conference that dealt with this horrific event and speaking to the families of people who were both the murderers and the victims. Hall’s play stirringly shines a light on the horrific acts that occurred in 1994 when 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutus were killed in 100 days by Hutus.
“Children of Killers” introduces the audience to the children left behind by the murderers who were imprisoned. We meet the children as their fathers are being released to return home. The children have had to grow up without fathers with the boys taking on the responsibilities of adults in the household and the mothers doing whatever was necessary to survive and help their families to survive.
With the prospect of the fathers coming home, two of the boys, Vincent and Bosco, are haunted by the laughter of children and their cries. Vincent–whose father was a leader known as “the butcher,” because he would slaughter men, women and children and would pressure his victims into mutilating themselves before allowing them to die–has mixed feelings about his father’s return. Vincent has a conscience and feels guilty about what his father did. He also cares for a young girl who was permanently disfigured during the genocide. His behavior shows that he is remorseful for the actions of his father, even if his father isn’t.
This production reveals so many details about what happened during the genocide, and how people were not only brutally murdered, but how women were also raped by men affected with the “sickness,” so that the women could die of the “sickness” and possibly bring children into the world who would also be infected. The acts committed against the Tutsi are unimaginable. It is a stark reminder of how cruel the human spirit can be. But also how strong, as the Tutsi are still around and doing their best to survive.
The fact that the production features a young cast is also very moving. It is interesting to have the poignant message delivered through the acts of children playing soccer and talking. Children laughing and playing act as reminders of the young lives that were ended. It was especially effective to have the young actors do these things behind curtains, so that mainly their silhouettes were seen behind the curtain.
This production reminds one that so many lives were lost, and even for those who survived, there was the murder of their innocence. The children of killers did not have normal childhoods. They have the mark of being the children of murderers. The wives left behind were the wives of murderers.
“Children of Killers” is a production that should be experienced. It conveys very disturbing historic events that will clearly have long-lasting consequences for generations to come.
The cast does an exceptional job and will have you mesmerized. It includes Terrell Wheeler, LaTonia Antoinette, Melech Meir, Sidiki Fofana, Naja Jack, Suzanne Darrell and Khadim Diop, along with the youth who played the Guhahamuka (spirits of the murdered children): Edgar Cancinos, Kimarra Canonnier, Franceli Chapman, Rain Jack, Lorenzo Jackson, Lauryn Simone Jones, Niara Nyabingi, Andrea Rachel, Mariel Reyes, Starshima Trent, Bernard Tarver and John Rankin, III.
Emily Mendelsohn brilliantly directs this play, which will only run through Oct. 28. For ticket information. visit www.castillo.org.