written by Lynn Nottage
directed by Kate Whoriskey
through October 17
With our world's current preoccupation with war, its shadowy aftermaths and so much being written in the press about it, a war play could very well be an unwelcome addition to the fall lineup. So what about Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined about Africa's World War in the Congo? It is far superior to others of its kind because it takes a very personal approach and relays joy as well as sorrow, making it a real unexpected surprise. Now at the Geffen, the play which originated at the Goodman in Chicago and the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, has a marvelous cast, is splendidly directed and relates a truly optimistic perspective on
War still rages in the Congo despite democracy being declared in 2003 and its ravages on the women of the country are best understood if the women themselves are allowed to speak about their intimate horrors. Nottage bases Ruined on actual interviews with many of these women, so the characters, though fictitious, are the real thing. Mama Nadi (Portia) is the quintessential survivor. She is all business, runs a whore house - the only one with a pool table for miles around - and relishes every ounce of her success. She is proud and wants to stake her claim on a piece of land that she can one day call her very own. She is constantly planning for the future, but there are obstacles, like her girls. Sophie (Condola Rashad) is already physically 'damaged goods', and to make matters worse, is caught stealing from the weekly grosses. What Mama does in return is surprising, something that only a deeply caring soul will do for another human being. Portia gives a powerhouse performance of a no nonsense woman, and Rashad is a marvel in a sweet underrated role. She also possesses a mean singing voice. Russell G. Jones as Christian, so in love with Mama, takes his opposing spirit on war to another level creating a totally likeable individual. Most all the other men in the play are depicted as selfish, monstrous pigs. Cherise Boothe is bold and savvy as Josephine, but it is Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Salima who has the prime supporting role. Shunned by her family and dishonoured for being raped by soldiers, and pregnant, she fights her own private war for daily survival. Her monologue in Act II, so full of torment, is beautifully written by Nottage and tells the plight of thousands of women just like her.
This is quite obviously not an easy play to take in. It is painful, and annoying on many levels, but yet if you stay with it, you will enjoy the ride and reap its many benefits. The addition of song and dance adds a lot of flavor to the dark proceedings. Mama puts it best when she declares, "Who will win? Who cares? There must always be a a part of you the war won't touch." Whoriskey's detailed direction is impeccable, the performances are all top-notch and Ruined is an absorbing, heartwarming evening of theatre.
5 out of 5 stars