Ruined by Lynn Nottage has won a swag of awards including the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. The play is a gut-wrenching drama spliced with laughter and compassion. It’s about life in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a group of women who have survived rape and torture only to be rejected by their villages and families because they are “ruined”.
The heart of the play is Mama Nadi, the owner of a bar and brothel who claims to be a pragmatic business woman but who has a tender heart hidden below her bluster. She refuses to be wooed with fine words or chocolates (Belgian), and won’t have her head turned by sparkly stones.
MAMA: Diamonds are nice, but I want a powerful slip of paper that says I can cut down forests and dig holes and build to the moon if I choose. I don’t want someone to turn up at my door, and take my life from me. Not ever again.
Lynn Nottage is an African American writer who frequently writes about life for African women. With Ruined she has chosen an important and often ignored subject, those women whom through rape and abuse or childbirth gone horribly wrong, end up with fistulas. (The word fistula is never used in the play, but I assumed that the “broken” women who were accused of smelling bad, suffered from fistulas.)
Salima, one of the women in the play tells a horrendous story of being abducted by soldiers, watching her baby daughter murdered in front of her eyes while she was being raped, and then taken as the soldiers’ soup pot, chained to a tree where anyone could have her as their entree before meals. She endured this for five months, but, for her, the worst part was still to come.
SALIMA: I walked into the family compound expecting wide open arms. An embrace. Five months, suffering. I suffered every single second of it. And my family gave me the back of their heads. And he, the man I loved since I was fourteen, chased me away with a green switch. He beat my ankles raw. And I dishonored him?
Salima’s husband has now come looking for her, but she never wants to see him again and Mama Nadi is happy to keep her hidden. But the tightrope she walks between the military and the rebels is stretching thin and when it breaks the haven she offers the women she takes in will be gone.
MAMA: You men kill me. You come in here drink your beer, take your pleasure and then wanna judge the way I run my “business”. The front door swings both ways. I don’t force anyone’s hand. My girls, ask them, Emilene, Mazima, Josephine, ask them, they’d rather be here, any day, than back out there in their villages where they are taken without regard. They’re safer with me than in their own homes, because this country is picked clean, while men, poets like you, drink beer, eat nuts and look for someplace to disappear.
Ruined is a surprisingly sweet play. Nottage has found redemption for some of the characters and the suffering and horror they have experienced are mitigated with a breath of hope. For some, this will be a saccharine, contrived ending, but for others it will be the hope they need to cope with the trauma they have vicariously experienced. Nottage based Ruined on Brecht’s Mother Courage
Publisher: Theatre Communications Group
Cast: 7M, 4F