By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas
Produced by Eclipse Theatre Company
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
Heart wrenching drama of African war is devastatingly real.
In their year of one playwright – 2014 – Lynn Nottage, Eclipse Theatre Company, under the creative direction of Aaron Todd Douglas, have mounted a powerful and wonderfully performed version of Ruined, the finest play by the talented Lynn Nottage.
She dramatizing the atrocities committed against women in the long civil war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nottage puts her immense research and writing skills to work to create situations and characters aptly depicting the conflicts in East Africa from a women’s perspective.
Ruined is set in present-day DRC and it covers the captivating story of Mama Nadi (TayLar in an anchoring commanding performance), the owner of a café/canteen/brothel that serves everything from cigarettes to beer to hot food to the company of a woman. Mama and her girls are survivors from the ravages of civil war. Christian (the likable Andre Teamer), is the savvy businessman who supplies and protects Mama and her whorehouse while making a hefty profit from them. Christian has a long seeded love for Mama that blossoms throughout the show.
Mama Nadi’s place is neutral ground in the Congo rainforest where the men come to unwind, drink and battle for the bodies of the ladies. The ladies are each damaged; some physically with sexual mutilation; some from psychological torture from being gang raped. The soldiers from both the government and the rebels share the blame for such actions. Mama seeks to protect all her girls. Sophie (Krystal Mosley) is an intelligent, education woman with whom Mama particularly likes while Salima (the terrific BrittneyLove Smith) is a pregnant rape victim on the brink of despair. Mama works hard to keep the two warring groups from destroying both the girls and her business. She is a survivor and a strong negotiator. We see how shifting alliances, betrayal and brute savagery rules in the war torn region.
Nottage dramatizes the brutality of rape and sexual mutilation while also offering a hopeful love story that has Mama finding someone her loves her (Christian). There are tender moments that show the real beauty of these ‘ruined’ souls offering a glimpse of the human spirit as it triumphs over evil. The dignity of humanity exists opposite the brutality of ethnic hatred. Putting a human face on such atrocities is a first step toward stopping these actions. Nottage sure does that with this compelling powerful work.
What was so powerful in Aaron Todd Douglas’ production, upon the fine multi-layered set (by Kevin Hagen) is the intimacy and the emotionally honest performances by TayLar, Teamer and BrittneyLove Smith. We feel their pain, we fear for them, and we pray for their happiness. Eclipse Theatre has mounted poignant tale of war’s human toll, especially toward women. This shows needs to be seen.
At the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-935-6875, www.eclipsetheatre.com, tickets $20 – $28, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission.