Ruined, Nottage's Play About African Atrocities and Human Hope, Opens Feb. 10

By Kenneth Jones
10 Feb 2009

Ruined stars Saidah Arrika Ekulona and Quincy Tyler Bernstine
Ruined stars Saidah Arrika Ekulona and Quincy Tyler Bernstine
Photo by Joan Marcus

The hard-to-chart chaos of the civil war in Africa's Democratic Republic of the Congo gets a focused snapshot in the New York City premiere of Lynn Nottage's Ruined, opening Feb. 10 at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage I at New York City Center.

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 premiered the play in fall 2008, to critical acclaim. Kate Whoriskey (Fabulation) repeats her directing duties for the MTC run, which features the Chicago cast. Opening is Feb. 10.

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 playwright told Playbill maagazine, "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."

The title refers to a woman's condition after she is raped, and genitally mutilated.

She said in 2008, "I sought to sustain the complexity of the modern DRC, a country that's been ravaged by a brutal war, and where the unspeakable has become commonplace. The challenge in writing the play was to find optimism where there is seemingly none, to mine the ugliness for seeds of beauty. The DRC is a place where hope and disillusionment do a fragile dance. It is in this tension of opposites that my play exists."

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 Chicago run of Ruined was extended by one week, to Dec. 14, 2008.

The creative team for Ruined includes Derek McLane (set), Paul Tazewell (costumes), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound), Dominic Kanza (original music) and Randy Duncan (movement director). Donald Fried is the production stage manager. Charlotte Fleck is dialect coach.

For more information visit manhattantheatreclub.com. More information about issues raised by the play is available at manhattantheatreclub.com/ruined.