Jenni Wolfson in Rash.
BOTTOM LINE: A not-to-be-missed, riveting first-person account of a UN worker's three years in Rwanda.
Jenni Wolfson isn't a professional actor. Not that I could tell. She has such a mix of natural intelligence and charisma that you can't help but hang on to every word she says. Wolfson's monologues are supported by an emotional depth that only real experiences can provide, and she delivers such a multilayered performance that any trained method actor would be jealous. Nor is she a professional playwright. Not that I could tell. Her writing is crisp, clean and nuanced. She manages to pack more meaning into a single line than most writers fit into entire scenes.
Jenni Wolfson is in fact the real deal. Born and raised in Scotland, she likes to drink tea and knit, and has worked for twelve years in the most extreme conditions imaginable as a human rights worker for the UN. Most notably, she spent three years in Rwanda in the mid-nineties during the height of the genocidal conflict and survived to tell of it, if just barely.
But Rash, playing at the HERE Arts Center as part of the NY Fringe Festival, isn't a story of murder, pain and despair. Sure, these aspects make an appearance, either as documentary photos, or as facts stated with a jaded coolness so that they seem surreal. You can tell that Wolfson has been witness to things most of us could only imagine, yet she decided to tell the story by instead focusing on life. Maybe that's the only way to approach the potentially soul-depriving subject of genocide. Wolfson talks of love the way a teenager talks of crushes, and of family conflicts as if they could be summarized by witty one-liners. Or kidnapping and threats of death as if they are something she saw on television instead of experiencing firsthand.
Rash, a show whose title refers to a reoccurring stress-induced skin affliction that acts as a barometer of a current situation, is not depressing. Although it has its moments. Nor is it ultimately uplifting, although it has those moments too. In the end it's essentially a story about life and how it unfolds mostly out of our control.
I urge everyone to see Rash before it is too late. The still young Wolfson is far from retired and is currently the managing director of WITNESS, a human rights organization that promotes the use of video to document and eradicate human rights abuses. There is a small window of opportunity to witness an authenticity that is unparalleled.
Rash plays at the HERE Arts Center in the Dorothy B. Williams Theater, 145 Sixth Avenue, through August 28th. Remaining performances are Saturday 8/21 at 7pm, Wednesday 8/25 at 8:45pm, Friday 8/27 at 4:15pm and Saturday 8/28 at 1:45pm. For more information, visit www.rashsolo.blogspot.com. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 at the door, and are available at FringeNYC.com, by calling 866.468.7619, or in person at FringeCENTRAL, located at 1 East 8th Street at 5th Avenue. There is NO LATE SEATING for Fringe NYC shows.)