Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Overwhelming

By J.T. Rogers

The Overwhelming
The Overwhelming

Directed by Kimberly Senior

Produced by Next Theatre Company

At the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston, IL

Powerful, nuanced drama unveils the complexity of the Rwandan genocide

“For the rat, there is no animal more dangerous than the cat. It is all he sees, all he thinks of. Because the cat, he spends each day trying to kill the rat. For if he does not, and the rats become more and more, who will be the hunter then? It is not hatred that drives us both: it is fear. We are trapped in a cycle. Prisoner, of the other.” –from The Overwhelming

Next Theatre, under new artistic director Jason Southerland leadership, returns to mounting socially provocative works with J.T. Rogers’ The Overwhelming directed by Kimberly Senior. This is a marvelous piece of dramatic theatre! Rogers is a talented writer who both develops rich characters and plausible situations placing each in a nuanced complexly gray-shaded world on Rwanda in the 1994. Rogers focuses on the root of the genocide between the Tutsis and the Hutus that finds overlapping, often conflicting motivations in play. Fear and retribution rule in Rwanda. Rogers deftly presents complexity of the Rwandan tribal conflict.


The play tells the story of Jack Exley (Si Osborne), a naïve liberal American professor who travels to Rwanda to do research for a book that he hopes will save his academic tenure. He takes his teenage son, Geoffrey (Rob Fagin) and his new wife, Linda (Tamberla Perry) into the war zone believing that a cease fire is real. Jack is desperate to find Dr. Joseph Gasana (Dexter Zollicoffer) an old college roommate and now a famed AIDS specialist.


Jack finds a mysterious, confusing and contradictory in Rwanda where things are not what they seem. Rogers weaves a suspenseful, tense story of intrigue, duplicity and betrayal. Told with deeply rich characters from the various sides of the Rwandan dilemma, we witness the liberal American point of view that arrogantly and self righteously chooses sides in Rwanda. Young Geoffrey befriends the young Rwandan Gerard (Christoph Horton Abiel in a powerful performance) while Linda Exley befriends Samuel Mizinga (Kenn E, Head in an effectively charming and duplicitous turn). The two Rwandans easily maneuver the Americans for their own agenda. The mystery of what happened to Joseph Gasana fuels the play. Si Osborne realistically presents the emotionally righteous intellectual out of his element.


The Overwhelming is an important, relevant and riveting look at the complexity of the social and political charged Africa tribal affairs. In this world, nothing is absolute, no one is completely innocent and no one has ‘the’ answer to the dilemma. Outstanding acting, smart writing makes The Overwhelming into one of 2009’s finest plays. J.T. Rogers’ “drama wrapped up in a thriller” is ‘must see’ night of theatre.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At Next Theatre in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston. IL, call 847-475-1875, tickets $23 – $38, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, special Saturday matinee at 2 pm on May 9 and Monday, May 11 at 7;30 pm; running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission.

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