Kimberly Scott and Tyrone Wilson in Ruined Photo: Jenny Graham/OSF 2010
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Lynn Nottage’s Ruined
currently getting a bang-up production at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Not that I feel 100% good about that. Nottage's 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner takes inspiration from Brecht’s fiercely anti-war Mother Courage and her Children
is set in present day war-torn DR Congo and is concerned mostly with the horrific violence, sexual and otherwise, women (and men) continue to face in this part of the world. Mama Nadi runs a local watering hole-cum-brothel where business is king and soldiers, miners, and rebels alike all check their ammunition at the door to honor the house rules. She has carved out a fragile safe haven where she harbors a number of other women who work as prostitutes in an environment far preferable to the violence and death they face outside of her protection. The play is set in motion when Mama Nadi’s contact for goods, Christian, brings her two new young girls she reluctantly accepts into her establishment, Salima and the beautiful Sophie who we come to find out has been “ruined” and permanently disfigured in a violent gang rape at the hands of soldiers.
There is a great deal of trauma in Ruined
and the audience, like the characters, are asked to accept it all and yet, keep moving. We learn more about these individual traumas and the bargains everyone has made to keep on living over the course of the play. Meanwhile, the encroaching conflict between government forces and local rebels grows closer and closer to Mama Nadi's, although its often difficult to tell the difference between the sides, a fact reinforced by having the same cast members play both sets of men. Mama Nadi, like Mother Courage, is making a living off the war while still trying to protect her many "children". It’s powerful and often emotional material that brought plenty of tears to plenty of eyes in Saturday’s audience.
But unlike Brecht, Nottage is not interested in alienating the audience, but trying to draw them in emotionally. And truly, Nottage has crafted a play that is easy to access with friendly, likable characters, a strong arching narrative, and relatively clear lines between the heroes and villains. She even throws in the redemptive power of love for good measure. Ruined
is an oddly non-political play, especially when compared to Danai Gurira‘s Eclipsed,
which deals with nearly identical themes in a similar setting while wearing its feminist orientation on its sleeve. Nottage keeps things a bit more personal in Ruined
coating its very awful medicine with plenty of theatrical sugar and craft. But to her credit, the play avoids descending into melodrama and packs no less punch in the final analysis. The performances in the OSF production are spectacular with Kimberly Scott as Mama Nadi, Tyrone Wilson as Chritian, Chinasa Ogbuagu as Salima, and Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Sophie. Director Liesl Tommy (who has also tried her hand at Eclipsed
) and the cast have crafted a big and very detailed staging that appears opulent even in its depiction of the worst poverty. Ruined
, despite its conventions, is an important play and OSF has done right by it. And if you're in L.A. and can't travel to see it, you're in luck in that the Geffen Playhouse
will be mounting it starting on September 7.
Labels: Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Out of Town Theater Reviews