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‘Human Rites’ tackles female genital mutilation

April 13, 2018 GMT

Inspired by the life of anthropological scholar Fuambai Sia Ahmadu and a contentious paper by cultural psychology pioneer Richard Shweder of the University of Chicago, “Human Rites” by Seth Rozin is an investigation of western cultural perspectives.

Rozin’s play runs through April 15 at InterAct and features a cast of three, including Barrymore Award nominee Lynnette Freeman as Lydia, a graduate student from Sierra Leone whose character, Freeman said, is loosely based on Dr. Fuambai.

In response to a student protest on the topic of female genital mutilation rites, an African-American dean (Michaela) and a Jewish psychology professor (Alan) find themselves facing off on two sides of an ideological debate.

Enter Lydia, whom Michaela hopes will disapprove of Alan’s findings that assert that female genital circumcision is a practice in many African cultures that women actually approve. “Lydia contends that the study of different cultures can descend into a judgment of right and wrong. She challenges both academics — and us — to rethink assumptions.”

Freeman, a graduate of the Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Program, and a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and League of Professional Theatre Women, has played in numerous productions at various venues and at InterAct as well. She said she is happy to be returning to InterAct in such an important play.

“As she enters the room of the dean, Lydia realizes she would have never come had she known what she would be called on to discuss,” Freeman explained. “She feels that many of the practices are misunderstood so throughout the play she tries to correct some of those misconceptions and educate people to her point of view.”

Lydia refers to the practice as “initiation rites, a sort of coming-of-age ritual,” Freeman continued.” She explains that she can only speak from her own experiences, although she knows it is something that is practiced all over the world, not just in Africa.”

And while Lydia is trying to educate Michaela and Alan, she hopes she is also educating the audience who have come to see this play.

“I hope the audience comes away with a deeper understanding about how we look at other cultures and receive information. There’s something to be said about how we view good and bad, right and wrong. I hope that by the end of the day we come to realize that we are not all cut from the same mold.

“It’s been a gift to me to embody this character,” Freeman concluded. “We must come to understand that our truth is just that — our truth — and that there are many truths in the world. Even within one culture there may be many truths. So, who among us gets to decide what’s right?”