Ruined at the Geffen Playhouse: The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Play Packs a Powerful MessageBy Marilyn Anderson | January 18th, 2011 | Category: Entertainment, Theater Reviews | 2 comments
Lynn Nottage’s play, Ruined, opened September 15th at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, already having received many accolades and awards. The Pulitzer Prize- winning drama is set in a war-ravaged country, where amidst the politically torn Congolese war, innocent women and children are raped, and then turned away by their husbands and families in shame. Almost as ugly as the rape by their attackers is the unfairness and disgrace wrought upon them by their villagers who cannot accept them afterwards.
The story takes place in a brothel amidst the chaos. 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 live in the bushes or refugee camps.
It’s a horrible plight that is dramatized on stage, and we meet the characters who live 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 guns and 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, and 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 can still have sex. Sophie was so badly raped with a bayonet that her private parts are mutilated. It’s grisly and horrific to think about, yet her singing brings a light to an otherwise dark and totally 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 literally spellbinding.
One of Mama’s regular girls, Josephine (Cherise Boothe), clashes with the new recruits at first. She has already accepted her role in the brothel, and sometimes seems even proud, as she provides wild, sultry dances for the visiting men.
There are bad guys and worse guys in Nottage’s play; 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. And 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 terrorized and victimized them. Yet, the deep and powerful message is about 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. To do research they headed to Uganda, where they realized there was a much more important story to tell about the Congolese women refugees there who had witnessed and endured the horrors of the war.
In addition to the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the play has garnered all kinds of 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. Visit www.GeffenPlayhouse.com for details on all performances.
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