Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: NOVEMBER 26, 2010
There isn’t a more ironic country name than the Democratic Republic of Congo. The battles raging there are considered the deadliest trans-national conflict since World War II. The Congo wars began in the 1990s and though they officially ended in 2003, the abuse and sexual enslavement of women continue. A U.N. official dubbed the nation the “Rape Capital of the World,” having toted up 200,000 sexual assaults, and counting.
This is the backdrop for “Ruined,” the moving, touching, harrowing and surprisingly hopeful play that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009.
Playwright Lynn Nottage traveled to Africa , to interview the Congolese victims of the brutal, violent war being waged against women. She wove their gut-wrenching stories into a stunning piece of theater, at once horrific and humorous, appalling and informative, shocking and inspiring. And with skill and sensitivity, she manages to show us that, even in unspeakable circumstances, there is an irrepressible will to survive, and even under the most hideous conditions, a fragile love can bloom.
The central character of “Ruined” is modeled on Bertolt Brecht’s indomitable war profiteer, “Mother Courage.” Mama Nadi runs a bar and brothel on the edge of the Ituri rain forest. It’s a haven for the sexually mutilated females of the play’s title; for the various rebel, militia and military forces who are raping the land as well as the women; and for the miners scrambling for coltan , the Congo ’s rich natural resource, a mineral used in the manufacture of cellphones , digital games and microprocessors. In other words, we are all the unwitting recipients of the spoils of this malignant war.
In the opening scene, Christian, a sometime poet and high-spirited traveling salesman, offers some goods and goodies to Mama Nadi : lipstick, chocolate – and two refugees, the frightened and damaged Sophie and Salima . As their stories unfold, we meet the other players, representatives of the various factions, and we see how pointless, like every war, it all is. We watch women break down and men erupt in macho dance, and in violence. We hear rhythmic, evocative music, played live onstage. And we witness a reluctant love begin to blossom.
The sights, sounds, stories and authenticity of the drama are haunting, played out in a detailed tropical setting, perfectly costumed, exotic and unforgettable. Under the direction of South Africa-born Liesl Tommy, the cast of 11 is superb, simultaneously frightening and enlightening us, credibly demonstrating the real meaning of survival. Some lines are rushed or swallowed, and the accents are sometimes difficult to decode, but there is a universal language of violence, pain and loss here, mingled with moments of release and brief flashes of contentment.
At the La Jolla Playhouse, in a collaborative effort with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the Huntington Theatre Company, “Ruined” is a triumphant creation in a marvelous production.
“Ruined” continues at the La Jolla Playhouse through December 19.
©2010 PAT LAUNER