Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ruined (The SOB Review)

Ruined (The SOB Review) - New York City Center Stage I, Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, NY

**** (out of ****)

It isn't until the second act of Lynn Nottage's devastatingly exceptional Ruined that we learn the Congolese people's secret for surviving recurring civil wars. According to one central character, they must simply pretend to ignore the inhumanity all around them.

But Ruined is much too excellent to ignore. Unlike the Congolese, all too many Americans go on about their lives, blissfully unaware of the violent savagery occurring on a daily basis in places like the Congo. Of course, simply ignoring it doesn't mean it's not happening.

What Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey have achieved with this heartstopping production is nothing short of monumental. They have skillfully succeeded in placing many a human face on those who are grossly dehumanized.

While Ruined's title specifically refers to the unspeakable rape and mutilation of Congo's women, it most certainly serves as an apt metaphor for the war-ravaged nation itself. Yet ostensibly, this is a story about the harrowing humiliation Congolese women endure, ranging from the scourge of rape to the rejection from their families after suffering at the hands of others. It should be noted that Nottage crafted her script from actual heartwrenching interviews with women "who bravely shared their stories."

Perhaps it's because of those first-hand accounts that Nottage so painstakingly and vividly creates some of the year's most remarkable female roles. Chief among them is the madame named Mama Nadi (a superb Portia) whose brothel doors are open to military officials and rebels alike. She houses three women, including Josephine (a swaggering Cherise Booth as a boastful daughter of a former chief) and two young women who have been brought to the safehouse the brothel has become -- Salima (a devastating Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and Sophie, the eponymously described victim Sophie (played during my performance by a heart-shattering Rachael Holmes).

Fortunately, given the myriad letches of men, Nottage provides one decent soul among them --an earnest businessman named Christian (a brilliant Russell G. Jones), who is not only trying to defy all odds by staying above the civil war's fray, but is also on a seemingly quixotic pursuit toward finding love among the Ruined.

Nottage endows each of her central characters with a breathtaking resilience, and a surprising degree of good humor, which undoubtedly serves as a much-needed salve for sheer survival. Ultimately, they demonstrate grace and resolve in their desperate attempts to rise above it all.

Ruined may very well be the most singular difficult play I've ever sat through. Even as my heart is still racing one day after seeing it, I can't think of a production that has so thoroughly affected me and awakened me from a complacency quite the way this excellent play has. It is without question the best new work I've seen in 2009.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Ruined has already been extended several times, but it will close on September 6. You simply can't afford not to see it.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 03 August, 2009, Blogger Vance said...

I still can't get Portia out of my mind. Or Quincy Tyler Bernstine as she's forced to dance for the men. Shudder. So haunting.

At 03 August, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

They were both exceptional. I can't remember the last time I was so moved.

At 28 August, 2009, Anonymous Yvonne Korshak said...

I don't agree with the idea that Ruined is brilliant and moving. I think it sugar coats a terrible situation, giving just enough of the awfulness to make people feel they're seeing something while helping them to feel it's all turning out OK. It isn't. What's going to happen to these women in ten years? Or one year? What about AIDS which never comes up in this play about a situation rife with it. The shine and pastel glow of the staging create an illusion that all these dreadful events are taking place in a kind of never never land. To me, it's a kind of theatrical exploitation. Sorry to be a nay sayer, but that's how I see it. Remembering its relationship to Brecht -- it sheers away the irony of Brecht's "happy endings"...

At 28 August, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Yvonne, All opinions are welcome. I appreciate your comments.


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