Lynn Nottage’s play, Ruined, opened September 15th at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, having already received many accolades and awards. The Pulitzer Prize winning drama is set in the war-ravaged Congo where innocent women and children are raped by soldiers, then turned away by their husbands and families in shame. Almost as ugly as the brutality of their attackers, is the injustice and disgrace wrought upon them by their villages, who cannot accept them afterwards.
The story takes place in a brothel. The madam takes in young women to service the men on either side of the war, showing that it’s better to willingly give their bodies, than try to survive in the bush or refugee camps. It’s a horrible plight that is dramatized on stage, and it provides an intimate portrait of the desperate characters who lived it.
Mama Nadi (Portia) is the madam who has shut her heart and mind, in order to make her business the driving force of her life. She’ll take money from either side, as long as they leave their bullets at the door. Mama reluctantly buys two girls from her traveling salesman friend, Christian (Russell G. Jones) learning that one is his niece, who has been “ruined.”
Sophie (Condola Rashad) is beautiful of face and spirit, but she was so badly raped with a bayonet that her private parts are mutilated. Though Mama argues that the girl will bring bad luck, she finally agrees to take her in to help with the chores and sing for the customers and other girls, who are able to have sex. It’s grisly and horrific to think about, yet her singing brings a bit of light to an otherwise dark and utterly sad story.
Sophie’s friend, Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), yearns for the husband who was off buying a pot when brutal soldiers found her in her garden and viciously raped her and killed her baby. She has a poignant and powerful monologue in the second act that is spellbinding.
One of Mama’s regular girls, Josephine (Cherise Boothe) clashes with the new recruits at first. She has already accepted her fate in the brothel, and even seems proud, as she lustily dances for the visiting men.
There are bad guys and even worse guys in Nottage’s play as it progressively builds on the theme that innocent women are the true victims of war. While the men are off fighting and exhibiting their egos in battle, it’s the women who suffer the most.
Yet, at the end of the play, romance saves the day. It’s a bit difficult to accept that these women could ever forgive the gender that so terrorized and victimized them.
The ultimate message of the play is the triumph of endurance and hope, even in the presence of extreme cruelty. It’s a stunning, thought-provoking piece with compelling performances from everyone in the cast.
The playwright, Lynn Nottage and director, Kate Whoriskey, had originally teamed up with the idea of doing an adaptation of Brecht’s “Mother Courage” set in the Congo. They headed to Uganda to do research, where they found a much more compelling story to tell, about the Congolese women refugees who had witnessed and endured the horrors of the war.
In addition to the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the play has garnered many other honors, including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Drama Desk Award, Outer Critics Circle Award, Lucille Lortel Award and an OBIE Award.
Ruined had its World Premiere at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, then moved to The Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. The current production at the Geffen Playhouse is a co-production with the Intiman Theatre in Seattle where Whoriskey is the Artistic Director.
Ruined runs through October 17th at The Geffen Playhouse in Westwood Village. Two special performances include September 28th when the International Medical Corps will participate in a Talk Back Tuesday with the cast of Ruined and Geffen Playhouse Education Director, Debra Pasquerette. On October 5, education partner Jewish World Watch will participate in a Talk Back Tuesday with the cast of Ruined and the playwright, Lynn Nottage.
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