Ruined, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Lynn Nottage, takes place in the war-torn Congo in the modern day. The play bounces between deep and light tones while portraying increasingly volatile combat. The central character (Mama Nadi) resists choosing sides in an attempt to keep her small bar and brothel in working order as the surrounding countryside is quickly divided and ravaged by angry, violent warriors.
HE SAID: I left this play feeling the same way I did after the first time I saw the musical Parade. The only way I could say it was, “I didn’t enjoy it for all the right reasons,” meaning that while I appreciate all of the beautiful performances and wonderful writing, the subject matter is so disturbing that I was uncomfortable for a lot of the show. It is a beautiful thing when art can affect the audience that way, but if you aren’t bothered a bit by this, something might be wrong with you. It’s amazing that the actors go and live in this world every night, even for only a few hours.
SHE SAID: I agree that it was intense! Perhaps the biggest challenge of this piece is to find variation in the intensity, because the gravity of the piece makes it easy to remain in extreme emotion the whole time. The performer (and character) who really explored several levels was Kimberly Scott as Mama Nadi. She showed an incredible amount of levity and humor, and capacity for change in an environment that stifles most growth. Also, the music that was performed throughout highlighted the contrast between levity and seriousness.
HE SAID: I agree that Mama Nadi showed several levels. The other performances were all incredible, reaching raw emotional heights that were very touching. Chinasa Ogbuagu as Salema was gripping in her emotional monologue in the second act. Tyrone Wilson as Christian was likable and endearing, although the accent he was using made him somewhat difficult to understand.
SHE SAID: I thought that Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Sophie was particularly well cast. In addition to her authentic and interesting acting, she had a perfect singing voice for the role, pleasant to listen to, but it didn’t sound trained or polished at all, just a natural talent shining in a horrific situation. I’ve fully enjoyed the Peter Macon’s commanding presence in other roles, so I was initially surprised to see him cast as the young husband and inexperienced soldier, Fortune. But Macon’s striking presence and deep voice convincingly portrayed Fortune’s insecurity, and it made it more shocking and amazing when his wife displayed the courage to hold the upper hand in their relationship.
HE SAID: The design elements for this production were quite well-done, especially how they began crafting the piece before the show started. The smallest theater at OSF was used for this piece, and we walked through tall, thick brush to get to the audience section of the space, which made it impossible for us to ignore the world of the play. The blackout before the show began was pitch black, and accompanied by a soundtrack of the sounds of the Congo, which was so loud it was almost frightening, getting us ready for the edginess present throughout the play.
SHE SAID: I thought the set design worked incredibly well, with a long four-tiered set providing opportunities for scenes to take place in several different locations without any scene changes at all. I have to say that because the audience was on both sides of the stage, there were some extremely emotionally intense moments that I found easy to escape from, because I could focus on the audience members on the other side of the stage and not the performers. I think that if it was performed with a more traditional set-up, I would have been fully drawn into the world of the play, which would have been uncomfortable but incredible.
THEY SAID: Ruined is an incredibly important piece of modern theatre. It is a rare piece of literature that can so well use live performance to make it maximally powerful and meaningful. This play will soon be studied by literature and dramatic scholars alike, and we felt privileged to see it done by such an outstanding company so close to its premiere. We recommend that everyone see it – if you’re not an OSF patron, Ruined is being launched by the Denver Center Theatre Company in the spring of 2011 (see our breakdown of their season here).