“She is ruined.”
Every time the title of a play is mentioned, it’s significant. The audience’s ears perk up and the tension in the room suddenly rises. In Ruined by Lynn Nottage, a production by Dark Glass Theatre at the Pacific Theatre, this happens rather quickly, in the first 10 minutes or so. And it’s referring to sexual assault. War rape, to be more accurate.
It always is difficult tackling such topics for playwrights and productions. There’s a fine line between respect and disrespect, awareness and exposure, empathy and pity- however, the director Angela Konrad suggests that the play “[reveals] beauty not just in spite of the difficulty but because of it. How entirely appropriate.”
It wasn’t hard to make the connection to my own background. The “comfort women” taken to Japanese Armies during World War II were not only from Korea but other occupied countries like China, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Burma, and Thailand. The issue with comfort women is not the lack of awareness but the complete denial from the Japanese government- many women today are fighting for their rights and compensation, but mostly, just an apology. There are, of course, many forms of media- mainly film and TV- portraying the stories of them. The effective ones are intense, serious and draws the audience in, but at the same time has appropriate comic relief and thus the easing of the tension from time to time, like Ruined. Nothing about the subject matter was light- the opposite, in fact, but the jokes and scenes here and there, strategically placed, relieves the audience from time to time.
It is important to mention that the leading lady playing Mama Nadi (Mariam Barry), had actually stepped in very last minute and the opening night was delayed. With such short notice she did a splendid job and it was worth the wait. Notable performances go to Makambe K. Simamba (Sophie) and Shayna Jones (Salima), their body language and chemistry between them portray the characters really well.
Costumes and set were simply stunning; the lights, especially the fairy lights and the effects during the gunshot scene was impressive. The live music was also charming.
Overall this production of Ruined was an extremely brave and successful way to raise awareness to what’s happening to women- and men- in Congo and how though they may be “damaged” physically and internally, they aren’t completely “ruined”.