Lynn Nottage’s play, RUINED, is one of those scripts that’s so good, and so engaging that you can sit around a table, just reading it cold and you won’t ever forget it. It’s so powerful, in fact, that it won a Pulitzer Prize for the playwright, the second for Ms. Nottage, who holds the distinction of being the only female playwright with the two Pulitzer Prize-winning plays (her other Pulitzer-prize winning play is SWEAT, which moved to Broadway after a sold out run at The Public Theater.) RUINED also won an Obie Award, Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, Tony Nomination, and Drama Desk Nomination! So yes, it’s a play to watch or read if you appreciate theatre, but if you have any inkling of emotion about the human condition, this play is for you. Think about this for a moment. Ms. Nottage is in the company of such greats as Eugene O'Neill, Robert E. Sherwood, Edward Albee, George S. Kaufman, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, and August Wilson. So on that basis alone, what’s stopping you?
The fact that there is a production taking place right now, under our noses, right here in Brooklyn (Ms. Nottage’s own home town) is indeed a treat, especially at the hands of one of the Heights Players best directors, Ted Thompson.
Thompson is no stranger to Ms. Nottage’s work, having directed one of her other plays, INTIMATE APPAREL, several years back, again for the Height’s Players in Brooklyn Heights. To tackle this material with such a talented ensemble of young actors was certainly a challenge, but the end result is phenomenal. Either way, I’ll start by emphasizing that there are numerous reasons to see this production.
“Men wage war, and women suffer,” says the director about RUINED. To Mr. Thompson, and to the audiences standing and applauding at the end of the play when I saw it, it’s no wonder why the theme resonates so loudly in our hearts and minds. Racism in America, Harvey Weinstein, war, money, sexism…find your reason, but know that what makes this play so memorable are the characters and their humanity, captured both in the material and the production.
Set in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the play follows Mama Nadi (played by Nettie Chickering), a shrewd businesswoman and brothel operator in a war torn land. She protects, she profits, and she shelters the women under her care while war rages around her. But why is she doing it and how far will she go to survive?
“Ruined” refers to women who have been raped or abused so repeatedly and violently that their sex organs are damaged. It also refers to women who are shunned by their families because of the shame associated with these acts of rape. For many of them, it is a lonely world of shame, isolation, and physical pain. In the story, Sophie (Natasha Hakata), a young woman who is “ruined” is brought to Mama Nedi, who initially wants no part of her. Eventually she finds a place at the brothel as an array of questionable characters pass through, and gunshots can be heard in the distance.
The story may seem dark, but it abounds with hope in humanity, and the idea that even in the most dire conditions, there are good people who can prove to be stronger than their situation. Call it inspirational.
Nettie Chickering is amazing. A young actor, she embodies the older character with grace, personality, and comedic talent. As Sophie, Natasha Hakata conveys a deep pain filled with a beautiful light deep inside that won’t die. Even in her state of suffering, her eyes are hypnotic and brighten when she sings. As Sophie, she demonstrates an inner will to survive that is beautifully engaging.
The entire cast does the play justice and their ability to bring layers to each portrayal deserves recognition. They all succeed. There are songs, dance numbers (Krystal S. Ballard as Josephine, one of the prostitutes, has a dance number that is a joy to watch), terrifying but charming warlords (Justin Thomas as Osembenga is both charming and terrifying), and one heart-stopping story told by one of the young women, Salima ( Katelyn E. Appiah-Kubi ) that you will never forget! They were all wonderful. The direction by Thompson was spot on. He utilizes the space in a way that draws you into the story as if you were a fly in the wall. It’s natural and real at every turn. A beautiful set by Gary Vanderputten, excellent lighting by Alan Sporing, and wonderful sound design by Cameron McIntosh round off an excellent production worth seeing. I've been going to the Heights for years, and something great seems to be happening this season.
With only two weekends left, don’t miss out. The play runs until November 19th.
Tickets can be found on BrownPaperTickets here: http://bit.ly/2zEf9Bq
Tickets are available at the door and by phone reservation.
The cast includes (and they deserve being mentioned) Nettie Chickering as Mama Nadi, Krystal S. Ballard as Josephine, Natasha Hakata as Sophie, Katelyn E. Appiah-Kubi as Salima, Sean C. Turner as Christian, Thomas J. Kane as Mr. Harari, David Glover as Kisembe, Justin Thomas as Osembenga, Malcolm Opoku as Fortune, Corey Grant as Simon, Adeyinka Adebola as Laurent