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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 16, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 29
Stunning Ruined an important wake-up call
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Stunning Ruined an important wake-up call

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Ruined
Intiman Theatre
Through August 8


Intiman Theatre is launching a new five-year series they are calling the International Cycle, following a five-year American Cycle. Kate Whoriskey, the new artistic director, is beginning with a production that was part of the making of her reputation and that caused her to be hired. Whoriskey writes the initiative is designed 'to explore what makes us unique, and what we can learn from the rest of the world.'

Whorisky directed Ruined, by Lynn Nottage, originally commissioned for Goodman Theatre in Chicago and then produced at the Manhattan Theatre Club. It was not only a critical success, but a call to action for many. In a city with as much connection to "causes" and political involvement as Seattle, it is proving to be an easy sell - even preview performances, not known for selling out, are selling out.

Part of this may be that a huge percentage of the cast has been performing this script for some time, either in one or both of the originating productions. So, a preview performance is likely to be almost as polished as any of the rest of the run - and a high-gloss polish it is!

The cast of actors is uniformly excellent. Clocking in at what would normally be a "longish" two hours and 45 minutes, the event rushes by as scene after quick scene introduces you to Mama Nadi's house of comfort in the middle of the chaos of Congo politics. Mama Nadi, played by steely Portia (known only by her first name), who vigorously defends her heart from involvement in order to keep her business afloat, takes in young women discarded by their families after being raped and brutalized by soldiers and rebels alike. Of course, these same brutalized women have to pleasure the men who come there to pay for drink and a "good time" but the structure allows them a modicum of dignity and value.

Russell G. Jones portrays Christian, essentially a traveling salesman, who convinces Mama to take in two more women, one of whom is his niece Sophie, a beautiful young woman who was college-bound until she was brutalized so badly that she is now considered "ruined." Mama Nadi doesn't want to take Sophie in, because unlike the other women "just" raped, a woman (or even girl) who has been ruined has had so many awful tortures to her insides that she is incapable of proper digestion, proper elimination, and likely unable to procreate. Her value as a prostitute is compromised, since she often can't perform. (Many "ruined" women have to wear colostomy bags, though none do in the production.)

However, Christian convinces Mama to take Sophie and find ways that Sophie can help. Sophie becomes the establishment's chanteuse. Condola Rashad has a maple-syrup voice that smoothly and beautifully flows - she could likely have a huge career as a singer, if she chooses. She is hauntingly lovely as Sophie.

The other young woman Mama is convinced to take in is Salima, played by a husky-voiced versatile Quincy Tyler Bernstine. Bernstine has a stop-the-production monologue where she demonstrates pleasure and wonder and anguish and pain and solace and resolve and anger all in a few lines. Salima is the spokeswoman for Congolese women everywhere.

Thankfully, though the play was created after doing dozens of interviews with victims, it's not a series of reports of interviews, but a fully created, personalized story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Nottage embraces the theatrical environment to tell a story of one particular establishment struggling to survive. It's easy to imagine the hundreds of similar kinds of small business establishments, working to get through the civil unrest, not knowing who is supposed to be in charge from one day to the next.

Though the circumstances of the women is horrific, the script pulls back from yanking on the audience's emotions. So much so that it might be too disconnected. A horrible moment toward the end is so quick that it lets the audience off the hook too fast, perhaps.

The physical production is gorgeous, from the lights to sound to versatile set design and original music by Dominic Kanza with lyrics by Lynn Nottage. From Seattle, the production will move to the Geffen Playhouse in California. Not encouraged for children under about 16 years, it's a stunning production and a marvelous theatrical evening, with an important subject to understand. For more information, go to www.intiman.org or call 206-269-1900.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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