Vividly set against the backdrop of war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Ruined is a potent portrayal of unspeakable tragedy and the prevailing triumph of the human spirit.
Mama Nadi (Portia) runs a bar and brothel in a small, rural outpost in the Ituri Rainforest somewhere in the Congo. When one of her suppliers Christian (Russel G. Jones) brings a new girl over, he begs Mama to also take in his sullen yet beautiful niece Sophie (Condola Rashard), a victim of ghastly abuse at the hands of the militia. Christian explains that Sophie is ‘ruined,’ which we learn means she has been abused so savagely while in captivity, she is incapable of working as a prostitute. But Christian assures Mama that Sophie sings beautifully which, indeed, she does.
Not that much happens during Act I while not-so-distant gunfire punctuates the discourse. Nottage’s play is more of a colorful character study and a glimpse into a foreign, exotic and dangerous world than anything. It’s not until Act II that some plot development emerges from the bickering hookers and the arrogant and menacing of the local militia and the rebel factions who seem to frequent Mama’s joint at different times of the day or week.
Ruined was commissioned by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Illinois and first staged there in 2008. Almost the entire cast who originated these roles appears in the Geffen’s faithfully transplanted production.
Most thrilling are the songs that erupt from time to time, composed by Dominic Kanza and performed live by guitarist Simon Shabantu Kashama and drummer Ron McBee. When Rashard (and later Mama herself) starts to sing to the swaying, lyrical music, the audience swoons.
Indeed, Ruined is such an engrossing story there were many times when it seemed as if the audience was holding its collective breath, hanging on every word The play’s final scene offers an optimistic conclusion, a breath of hope after so much grief.
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Runs until Sunday, Oct 17th 2010.
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Review by Pauline Adamek