Performances play New York City Center Stage I. It was previously extended for a fourth time to May 10. Tickets are $75.
The hard-to-chart chaos of the civil war in Africa's Democratic Republic of the Congo gets a focused snapshot in Nottage's Ruined. Women are both victims and life-forces in the frank, tense, bloody — and ultimately, hopeful — drama, set in "the recent past in a bar in a small mining town in the Ituri Rainforest" in the eastern part of the country.
Like Brecht's famed Mother Courage, who slogs on through wartime, Mama Nadi (played by Saidah Arrika Ekulona of Off-Broadway's Well and Fabulation) is a shrewd businesswoman who runs a canteen in a time of civil war, when citizens are caught between rebel and government forces. In her shabby joint, which features live music, she sells cold beers, a game of pool, whiskey, a hot meal, Fanta orange soda — and the company of women.
Off-Broadway previews of Ruined, a co-production of MTC and Chicago's Goodman Theatre, began Jan. 21. Goodman, which commissioned the play, premiered the drama in fall 2008, to critical acclaim. Kate Whoriskey (Fabulation) repeats her directing duties for the MTC run, which features the Chicago cast. Ruined was developed through Nottage and director Whoriskey's pilgrimage to Uganda, "where countless interviews and interactions resulted in a portrait of the lives of the women and girls caught in the devastating armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)," according to earlier production notes.
The title, Ruined, refers to a woman's condition after she is raped, and genitally mutilated.
Nottage told Playbill.com on April 20 that hope was an important element in Ruined. She was not interested, she said, in again "brutalizing" the women she had interviewed by showing a bleak world with no exit. Hope is something she feels as a human being, not just as a playwright, so it naturally spills onto the page, she suggested.
The playwright said that director Whoriskey was essential to the process of writing the play. The director was a companion, editor and dramaturg, asking questions and holding hands. Two trips were taken to Uganda for research. Nottage said that she went to Africa with an amorphous idea about a possible take on Mother Courage and Her Children. By the second visit she had a clearer view of what she wanted to write.
What's next for the Pulitzer-honored writer? Nottage said that By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is the name of her next play, which does not yet have a home. It's about an African-American maid and actress trying to land a role in a "Gone With the Wind"-like movie called "The Belle of New Orleans."
Of the violence against women in Africa, the playwright previously told Playbill Magazine, "I have to say the situation there is so complicated and chaotic that, if I tried to take on the whole thing, it would be epic — I'd still be writing it — so I decided to focus on one war: the war against women. There are many wars being fought, but this seems the most inexplicable — and the one most easily stopped — and yet it continues."
MTC bills Ruined as the "haunting, probing work about the resilience of the human spirit during times of war. Set in a small mining town in Democratic Republic of Congo, this powerful play follows Mama Nadi (Ekulona), a shrewd businesswoman in a land torn apart by civil war. But is she protecting or profiting by the women she shelters? How far will she go to survive? Can a price be placed on a human life?"
The cast also features Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Cherise Boothe, Chris Chalk, William Jackson Harper, Chiké Johnson, Russell Gebert Jones, two-time Emmy Award winner Kevin Mambo ("The Guiding Light"), Tom Mardirosian, Ron McBee and Condola Rashad. Congolese songwriter-musician Simon Shabantu Kashama is the guitarist. McBee is the drummer who doubles in the cast.
Nottage is the Obie Award-winning author of such plays as Fabulation and Intimate Apparel.
The Manhattan Theatre Club and Goodman Theatre co-production of Ruined is currently playing at New York City Center Stage I at 131 W. 55th Street.
Performances play Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 PM.
For tickets, visit New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street), call CityTix at (212) 581-1212 or visit www.nycitycenter.org.