Lynn Nottage's Ruined Wins Pulitzer Prize for Drama

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
and Kenneth Jones
20 Apr 2009

Condola Rashad, Cherise Boothe and Quincy Tyler Bernstine in <I>Ruined</I>
Condola Rashad, Cherise Boothe and Quincy Tyler Bernstine in Ruined
Photo by Joan Marcus
Lynn Nottage's Ruined, which is currently playing an extended engagement at Manhattan Theatre Club's New York City Center Stage I through May 10, has been named the winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalists were Becky Shaw, by Gina Gionfriddo, a "jarring comedy that examines family and romantic relationships with a lacerating wit while eschewing easy answers and pat resolutions"; and In The Heights, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, a "robust musical about struggling Latino immigrants in New York City today that celebrates the virtues of sacrifice, family solidarity and gritty optimism."

The 2009 Letters, Drama and Music jurors included Dominic Papatola, theater critic, St. Paul Pioneer Press (chair); John M. Clum, chair, department of theater studies, Duke University; Jim Hebert, theater critic, San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune; David Henry Hwang, playwright, Brooklyn, NY; and Linda Winer, theatre critic, Newsday.

The award, which includes a $10,000 prize, is "for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life," according to the official guidelines. "Productions opening in the United States between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2008 are eligible."

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."

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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."

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.

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The Pulitzer Prize — named for American journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer — was established in 1917, a stipulation of Pulitzer's will. The first Pulitzer Prize in Drama was awarded in 1918 to Jesse Lynch Williams' Why Marry?.

The complete list of Pulitzer Prize in Drama winners is listed below:

2008: August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts
2007: Rabbit Hole, by David Lindsay-Abaire
2006: No award
2004-05: Doubt, by John Patrick Shanley
2003-04: I Am My Own Wife, by Doug Wright
2002-03: Anna in the Tropics, by Nilo Cruz
2001-02: Topdog/Underdog, by Suzan-Lori Parks
2000-01: Proof, by David Auburn
1999-00: Dinner with Friends, by Donald Margulies
1998-99: Wit, by Margaret Edson
1997-98: How I Learned To Drive, by Paula Vogel
1996-97: No award
1995-96: Rent, by Jonathan Larson
1994-95: The Young Man From Atlanta, by Horton Foote
1993 94: Three Tall Women, by Edward Albee
1992-93: Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, by Tony Kushner
1991-92: The Kentucky Cycle, by Robert Schenkkan
1990-91: Lost in Yonkers, by Neil Simon
1989-90: The Piano Lesson, by August Wilson
1988-89: The Heidi Chronicles, by Wendy Wasserstein
1987 88: Driving Miss Daisy, by Alfred Uhry
1986-87: Fences, by August Wilson
1985-86: No award
1984-85: Sunday in the Park With George, by James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim
1983-84: Glengarry Glen Ross, by David Mamet
1982-83: 'night, Mother, by Marsha Norman
1981 82: A Soldier's Play, by Charles Fuller
1980-81: Crimes of the Heart, by Beth Henley
1979-80: Talley's Folly, by Lanford Wilson
1978-79: Buried Child, by Sam Shepard
1977-78: The Gin Game, by D.L. Coburn
1976-77: The Shadow Box, by Michael Cristofer
1975-76: A Chorus Line, by Michael Bennett, James Kirkwood, Nicholas Dante, Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban
1974-75: Seascape, by Edward Albee
1973 74: No award
1972-73: That Championship Season, by Jason Miller
1971-72: No award
1970-71: The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, by Paul Zindel
1969-70: No Place To Be Somebody, by Charles Gordone
1968-69: The Great White Hope, by Howard Sackler
1967-68: No award
1966 67: A Delicate Balance, by Edward Albee
1965-66: No award
1964 65: The Subject Was Roses, by Frank D. Gilroy
1963-64: No award
1962-63: No award
1961-62: How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, by Abe Burrows, Willie Gilbert, Jack Weinstock and Frank Loesser
1960-61: All the Way Home, by Tad Mosel
1959-60: Fiorello!, by Jerome Weidman, George Abbott, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock
1958-59: J.B., by Archibald MacLeish
1957-58: Look Homeward, Angel, by Ketti Frings
1956-57: Long Day's Journey Into Night, by Eugene O'Neill
1955-56: The Diary of Anne Frank, by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
1954-55: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, by Tennessee Williams
1953-54: The Teahouse of the August Moon, by John Patrick
1952-53: Picnic, by William Inge
1951-52: The Shrike, by Joseph Kramm
1950-51: No award
1949-50: South Pacific, by Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and Joshua Logan
1948-49: Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller
1947-48: A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams
1946-47: No award
1945-46: State of the Union, by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse
1944-45: Harvey, by Mary Chase
1943-44: No award
1942-43: The Skin of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder
1941-42: No award
1940-41: There Shall Be No Night, by Robert E. Sherwood
1939-40: The Time of Your Life, by William Saroyan
1938-39: Abe Lincoln in Illinois, by Robert E. Sherwood
1937-38: Our Town, by Thornton Wilder
1936-37: You Can't Take It With You, by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman
1935-36: Idiot's Delight, by Robert E. Sherwood
1934-35: The Old Maid, by Zoe Akins
1933-34: Men in White, by Sidney Kingsley
1932-33: Both Your Houses, by Maxwell Anderson
1931-32: Of Thee I Sing, by George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Ira and George Gershwin
1930-31: Alison's House, by Susan Glaspell
1929-30: The Green Pastures, by Marc Connelly
1928-29: Street Scene, by Elmer Rice
1927-28: Strange Interlude, by Eugene O'Neill
1926-27: In Abraham's Bosom, by Paul Green
1925-26: Craig's Wife, by George Kelly
1924-25: They Knew What They Wanted, by Sidney Howard
1923-24: Hell-Bent fer Heaven, by Hatcher Hughes
1922-23: Icebound, by Owen Davis
1921-22: Anna Christie, by Eugene O'Neill
1920-21: Miss Lulu Bett, by Zona Gale
1919-20: Beyond the Horizon, by Eugene O'Neill
1918-19: No award
1917-18: Why Marry?, by Jesse Lynch Williams
1916-17: No award

For more information, visit pulitzer.org.