Early into Act I of Ruined at Intiman Theatre, young Congolese woman Salima—in her first night on the job at Mama Nadi’s brothel—is forced onto the lap of a rebel soldier, where she squirms with such discomfort it’s difficult to follow the dialogue upstage. You feel her pain acutely, squirming in your own seat though you know Mama Nadi’s is a sanctuary compared to what Salima was rescued from: five months as a concubine to soldiers, deep within the rainforest of the war-torn Congo.
But for every moment of suffering, every reference to rape in Ruined —of which there are many—there’s hope, humor, even a little romance. Women may be “ruined” physically, but they’re not silent victims. See Mama Nadi, played with equal parts warmth and sass by the divine Portia? She’s an entrepreneur. And Condola Rashad (talented daughter of Phylicia Rashad) lends strength, smarts, and a stirring singing voice to battered woman Sophie. To create such a powerful, and ultimately Pulitzer-winning, drama, playwright Lynn Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey had to do their homework, traveling to Uganda in 2004 to interview Congolese refugees. They originally intended to adapt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children and set it in the Congo, but soon realized that the true story was a more important one to tell.
Knowing that some of the sagas you hear in the play could be factual is like a call to action; it prompts the kind of emotional response reserved for A Streetcar Named Desire or an August Wilson play, and thankfully, there are outlets for that response. Intiman has arranged a series of post-play discussions (see below) and partnered on a run/walk for Congo Women in October. We may leave thinking things are bad in the Congo, but that what’s “ruined” is not beyond repair.
Ruined runs at Intiman Theatre through August 15. The original, 2009 Obie-winning off-Broadway cast and sets by Derek McLane make their debut in Seattle, and will travel to Los Angeles’s Geffen Playhouse in September and South Africa’s Market Theatre later this fall.
Post-show discussions with cast members and Intiman staff: Tuesdays: July 13 and August 3 after the 7:30pm show.
Wednesdays: July 21 after the 7:30pm show; July 28 after the 2pm show.
Fridays: July 16, 23, and August 6 after the 8pm show.
Saturdays: July 17, 31 after the 2pm show.
Tuesdays: July 13 and August 3 after the 7:30pm show.