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Monday, May 30, 2011

Ruined by Lynn Nottage Comes to Philadelphia

A Review by Sojourner Ahebee

Last Thursday, I attended the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of the Pulitzer-Prized-winning play Ruined.   Written by Lynn Nottage, this play takes place in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during its civil and regional wars, which continue. The DRC holds 80 percent of the world’s coltan, which is a type of ore that can store electrical charges. You can find it in your cell phones, computers, cameras and other electronics, which is why it is so valuable. The DRC's bordering neighbors like Rwanda, for example, have made close to 250 million dollars from selling this coltan that was smuggled out of the DRC. It is because of resources like coltan, that has caused the endless and bloody fighting in the DRC; resources that the United States and Europe are heavily dependent upon.

Not only does this play capture the horrors of war, but it shows the sexual violence that is perpetrated against women as a result of these civil, economic and political conflicts.  During this vicious period, soldiers raping women has become a norm. It is said in the DRC that nearly 90 percent of the women in many villages have been raped. Their ages can range from as young as three to as old as seventy-five. Rape, in essence, has become a weapon of war for soldiers.

Now that you have some background, let me explain the premise of the play. The play takes place in  Mama Nadi’s bar. It is a sort of brothel where the clientele consists of soldiers and miners. This is a place, as Mama Nadi (Heather Simms) puts it, “where people come to forget”. Sophie (Keona Welch), a very bright student, comes to work for Mama Nadi. She was raped and mutilated by a group of soldiers with a bayonet. She now must wear the identity of being ruined; her private area, her vagina, has been so badly damaged and mutilated.   To be ruined in this society is seen as unlucky, unsanitary, and dishonorable. No one is supposed to want anything to do with a ruined woman. Sophie cannot commit any sexual acts because of her past, so Mama Nadi lets her sing in the bar instead. It is horrific how women must resort to these types of situations. It is almost as if their society makes the woman the culprit, even though she was the one who was raped. The rapists are never perceived as vicious perpetrators.
Another important character in the play is Salima (Erika Rose). Her village was attacked by rebel soldiers and she was taken into the bush by them to be their concubine. When she escapes, she returns to her village and finds her husband, but her community chases her away because she had been with too many men. They are ashamed of her. She, too, finds work and shelter with Mama Nadi. When she is explaining her story, she states “I walked into my family compound expecting wide arms. An embrace. Five months suffering…And my family gave me the back of their heads”. Later her husband, Fortune (James Ijames) comes looking for her. He hears she is at Mama Nadi’s but Salima does not want to see him. During this part of the play I did not initially understand why she would not want to see her husband. I thought this was a way out for her and I wondered why she was not happy he had found her. But later, I saw her strife more clearly. Firstly, she is partly ashamed to see her husband because she is working in a brothel. Secondly, you later find out she is pregnant by a stranger she doesn’t even know. Thirdly, why would she talk to a man who did not embrace her after everything she had been through? I do not think I would have come out to talk to Fortune either.

The central character in the play was Mama Nadi herself. Mama Nadi is a strong and no-nonsense woman. She runs the bar and cares for her girls. She is quite a tough character, but you can tell that she is guarded because something has happened to her in the past.  Mama Nadi seems a bit harsh and insensitive at the beginning of the play, but throughout the play you see the acts of generosity and kindness she gives to the woman who live with her. You later find out why she wears a shield of callousness, but I will let you figure that out when you see this play. This play is pure genius! You see all aspects of a war environment and the great writing makes you feel as though you have been placed right there in the middle of it  all. There is no moment in the play when you feel bored. It is a story fueled with non-stop action and brilliance! I urge my readers to see this play and witness the stories of these brave women. What you read in the papers about the sexual violence perpetrated against woman in the DRC, never aptly captures what is really going on in that country. This play does!

Ruined will run at The Suzanne Roberts Theatre through June 12, 2011! Please come out and support The Philadelphia Theatre Company’s effort to bring quality theatre to Philadelphia. You will not be disappointed. Hit the link below to check the theatre’s dates and times for the performances!

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