Members of the audience at Lynn Nottage’s exceptional play, “Ruined”, may not have known much about the long and brutal history of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo before seeing Dark Glass Theatre Production’s presentation at Pacific Theatre. They will leave, however, with a deep empathy for the Congolese people, and more particularly, the women who have been victims of unbelievable atrocities for many years.
“Ruined” is the story of some of these women. The play takes place in a small town bar run by Mama Nadi. Not only is this a place for soldiers, rebels, fortune seekers and travelers to stop for a drink, it is a brothel as well. Mama says she supports eight women through her business and that all of the women are lucky to be safe with her, rather than to be out in a world where extreme violence toward women is commonplace.
Christian, a travelling salesman with a soft spot for Mama Nadi, stops at the bar on occasion. He brings presents for Mama and updates her on the increasingly dangerous conflicts in the area. During an early visit, he brings a different sort of gift for her… two young women. Salima and Sophie shuffle in, grey and stooped over, with downcast eyes. Mama Nadi does not want them; she has enough women to support already, but she relents when she learns that Sophie is actually Christian’s niece and that both women have suffered greatly, leaving them ‘damaged’.
Josephine, one of the prostitutes who live with Mama Nadi at the bar, is not happy with the new arrivals. She does not want to spend time helping them get used to their new home because she thinks that Mr. Harari, a regular bar patron and travelling gem merchant, will soon be taking her away to live with him in a nearby town.
Mama tries hard to protect the both women and her business by remaining neutral as the civil war comes relentlessly closer to the bar. As the play progresses, a subtle air of menace enters the bar. Mama treats both the rebel soldiers and the government militia with equal respect, allowing both groups to think she supports their side in the conflict. She believes that, in order to survive, she must adhere to her motto: “the door never closes at Mama’s place”. She controls what she is able to, but the conflicts of war soon permeate life inside the bar anyway and the mood darkens quickly.
Salema, Sophie, Josephine and even Mama Nadi, eventually share the stories of the horrors they have survived, bemoaning the fact that, in African society, they are “ruined” and without human value. At the same time, each manifests a fierce determination to survive and move forward, although one of them does not succeed.
The play asks difficult questions. How is it that the victims of sexual violence are thought to be ‘damaged’ and should, therefore, be ostracized by their families and towns? “What is justified when survival is on the line?” (liner notes) Why is extreme brutality against women tolerated as a weapon of war? Is there any hope?
“Ruined” ends by reminding us that people are strong, and that even those who have survived these horrors can remain remarkably resilient, still able to move toward trust and love, not entirely ruined at all. As Mama Nadi said,
“there must always be a part of you that the war can’t touch.”
Cast and Crew
Directed by Angela Konrad.
Featuring: Tom Pickett, Mariam Barry, Rachel Mutombo, Damon Calderwood, Shayna Jones, Mikaela Fuqua, Makambe K. Simamba, Adrian Neblett, Donald Sales, Michael Kiapway, and Agape Mngomezulu.
“Ruined” is playing at the Pacific Theatre – 1440 West 12th Avenue in Vancouver through February 17th.
Review – Judy Robb
Photos – Jalen Saip