Lynn Nottage's Ruined Is HBO-Bound, With Oprah Winfrey Involved

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20 Sep 2010

Playwright Lynn Nottage is writing a teleplay of her Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Ruined, to be produced by HBO Films and Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions, the Los Angeles Times has reported.



The 2009 Pulitzer script is about a tough brothel/bar-keeper named Mama Nadi, who is trying to make a buck in the chaos of civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Atrocities external and under her own roof threaten her and the lives of those she is protecting.

Following its co-world premiere at Chicago's Goodman Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club, the play is blossoming in regional theatres throughout North America.

A representative for Nottage told the L.A. Times that the project is in the early stages. No production or presentation timeline has been announced.

HBO likes Pulitzer-winning scripts. The production/cable powerhouse has produced TV versions of prized Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Margaret Edson's Wit and Donald Margulies' Dinner with Friends.

On Sept. 20, Nottage won the 2010 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award. Presented by The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, the award includes a $200,000 cash prize. As previously reported, the Nov. 8 award ceremony will be presented at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.

In addition to earning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Ruined was presented with a host of honors including the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Play and Outstanding Music for a Play, the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Off-Broadway Play, two Lucille Lortel Awards including Outstanding Play and Four OBIE Awards including Best New American Play.

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The hard-to-chart chaos of the civil war in Africa's Democratic Republic of 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 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, 2009. Goodman, which commissioned the play, premiered the drama in fall 2008, to critical acclaim. Kate Whoriskey (Fabulation) repeated her directing duties for the MTC run, which featured 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, 2009, 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.

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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."

Nottage is the Obie Award-winning author of such plays as Fabulation and Intimate Apparel.