By Pippin Ross | January 28, 2011
Riveting acting, brilliant set designs, mood-altering lighting and music, that’s the stuff of great theater. In the play Ruined, currently running at Boston University’s Huntington Theater, it’s also what keeps the audience from having to walk away from one mighty tough plot.
The play’s origin is journalistic. In 2004, playwright Lynn Nottage traveled to East Africa to interview Congolese women trying to escape the brutal conflict, rape and pillage inside the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although the war was officially over by then, a U.N. official defined the Congo as - ‘still, the rape capital of the world’.
“I was interested in giving voice and audience to African women living in the shadows of war,” Nottage explained after the play’s London premier last year. “I knew their stories weren’t being heard. I wanted to understand who they were beyond their status as victims. I was surprised by the number of women who readily wanted to share their stories, and by the end of the interviews, I realized that a war was being fought over the bodies of women. Rape was being used as a weapon to punish and destroy communities.” Thus the title, Ruined as a direct metaphor for the physical and emotional impact of rape.
Like Bertold Brecht’s play, Mother Courage, which is a portrait of how a tough woman navigates and survives The 30 Year War of the 1600’s, the central character of Ruined is Mama Nadi, a smart survivalist who sells beer and women to any soldier who leaves his gun at the door - no matter which side he’s on.
Through a remarkable script packed with the humor of sharp-witted characters, the audience is witness to the persistent strength and courage of women whose bodies and babies have forever been victims of the violent acts of conquest. Despite the painful horror, the Pulitzer Prize winning play brings an enormous hit of hope and amazement at human, and particularly - women’s strength.
That strength emerges in the vocal and physical expression, and depth, the actors bring to the powerful script. In a recent interview on Boston’s NPR station, WBUR, director, and South African native, Liesl Tommy said that in leading up to rehearsals, she required that everyone watch a series of documentaries and testimonials depicting the vicious acts of the region’s conflict. “It was an extremely rigorous process,” says Tommy. “I felt that to put on a good performance, our hearts had to break for, and with, theirs.”
She describes playwright Nottage’s intention being to bring a horrible reality front and center and, “put a personal face” on the wars happening around the globe.
That’s where great theater helps: The performance is so well done, Ruined is more riveting than ruining. It’s intended to stick in ways that bring healing and change.
Ruined runs until February 6, 2011, at The Huntington Theatre.
264 Huntington Avenue, Boston MA 02115
Box Office: (617) 266-0800
All images appear courtesy of the Huntington Theatre Company.