Black Rep Tackles “Ruined’ with Ease
Congoan rape the topic in award winning play
By Marcus Ma’at Atkins
When this writer read that the topic of The Black Rep’s next play, “Ruined” would involve life of Congoan women who are unwillingly raped by rebel soldiers during civil war and are dishonored from their families, it was evident that the company is finally pushing( more like tearing up) the envelope of their usual standard fare.
Directed by Producing Director and Black Rep Founder Ron Hines, he takes writer Lynn Nottage's 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama, that is playing at the Grandel Theatre in Midtown St. Louis, and doesn’t dissuade from the play’s harrowing yet captivating story no holds barred.
Set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 2004-2009 civil conflict, the story tells the tale of the country’s illegal brothel ran by Mama Nadi ( played excellently by Black Rep actress/director Andrea Frye ), a madam, who takes in women who were raped and can no longer bear children (hence the phrase, “ruined’) and service rebel soldiers during the war.
Ruined, which comprises from Nottage's research on Congoan women during their wore torn country, is a winner on all levels from the acting (especially Frye’s and Rep resident Sharisa Whatley’s who plays rape victim, Salima who both should receive Kevin Kline nods next year), the African- English accents , the Congoan music mini concert, to the realism of the brothel itself and rotating room scenes (designed by Regina Garcia).
It is also noted the feminine sensibilities of the play making it pro-womanist. What makes 'Ruined' are the three unconventional love stories, directly and indirectly. One involves Salima’s husband who’s a rebel soldier risking his life during the war to get his wife from the brothel after discovering the enemy warmongers brought her there after raping her (as told in a fascinating soliloquy by Watley). Another is the budding friendship between Salima and fellow refugee Sophie, played by Evann Jones based on their circumstances and lastly, Frye’s stoic character resistance to loving salesman Christain, who brought his teen niece Sophie to the brothel, played by J Samuel Davis, based on her painful past.
Frye and cast members playing Congoan rebel soldiers
The only drawbacks were trying to understand the African dialect of some of the characters and the sound problems where the actors used their natural voices instead of mics to carry the acoustics in the theater.
One of the scenes where the soldiers (actor Eric Kilpatrick is in black) come to the brothel for pleasure.
Some of the scenes are also difficult to watch (especially when a near rape is almost occurring with one of the brothel women and Watley’s character’s demise) Nevertheless, Ruined, is unapologetically one of those stories that transcends race and gender showcasing the helpless and masochism that takes place when people are stressed with war and taking their frustrations on the weak and meager, in this case, women who are seen as property in and out of the family structure.
If you enjoy social realism in theater, this is a must see. “Ruined” will run through March 6; For ticket info, Tickets are available from The Black Rep Box Office (314) 534-3810, or from MetroTix (314) 534-1111, or online at www.theblackrep.org and metrotix.com. For more information: http://www.theblackrep.org/