Saturday, March 14, 2009

Review: Ruined

Human Spirit Triumphs Over Atrocities of War

By Lauren Yarger
Ruined, Lynn Nottage’s tale of war and rape and the triumph of the human spirit over those atrocities is a rich, wonderfully written play that puts faces we care about on the tragedy and transports an off-Broadway audience at New York City Center to Africa.

Set in a small mining town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruined revolves around the lives and events at a bar/brothel in the Ituri rainforest (effectively rendered by scenic, lighting and costume design from Derek McLane, Peter Kaczorowski and Paul Tazewell). Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) and Sophie (Condola Rashad) are brought to the establishment’s formidable owner Mama Nadi (Saidah Arrika Ekulona) by Sophie’s profiteering uncle Christian (Russell G. Jones). The girls have been turned out in shame by their families after being raped by soldiers. Sophie’s attack, including the use of a bayonet, was so brutal, she was “ruined” and she walks with a limp, her legs slightly apart.

Salima, who becomes pregnant, and another of Mama Nadi’s girls, Josephine (Cherise Boothe), who was the daughter of a chief, are forced to entertain the men who frequent the bar while Sophie, unable, earns her keep by keeping the books and singing (original songs by Dominic Kaza accompanied on guitar and drum with lyrics by Nottage and music and sound direction by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen).

Soldiers from both sides of the civil war seek out the pleasures of the establishment, and with both leaders, Jerome Kisembe (Chris Chalk) and Cmdr. Osembenga (Kevin Mambo) showing their evil sides, it’s hard to tell who the enemy is. Mama, whom theatergoers will liken to Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, won’t take sides. She saw her family lose everything in the conflict and she is determined to hang on to her own land, which represents independence, at all costs.

“Mama’s doors are open to everyone, so trouble doesn’t settle here,” she reasons. She hides away a raw diamond which Mr. Harari (Tom Mardirosian), an Englishman connected with the diamond mines and one of Josephine’s regulars, tells her is quite valuable. Representing the dreams of freedom and a better life, it is her insurance policy.

“No one is going to show up at the door and take my life away again,” Mama resolves.

The price of holding on to her land might include losing a chance for happiness with Christian, however. They enjoy friendship full of banter and some laughs when he stops by to deliver hard-to-obtain supplies like chocolate, cigarettes and condoms, but she rebuffs his repeated poetic attempts to declare his deeper feelings. She demands that the soldiers surrender their bullets at the door and leave the conflict outside as she tries to keep her dealings with the two sides secret from each other. The escalating conflict and the murder of a nearby missionary suggest that the juggling act might not protect the bar much longer.

“Eventually you must fly your colors; take a side,” Harari tells Mama.

Salima’s husband, now a soldier, searches for her, but she refuses to see him when he finds her. Bernstine’s dynamic portrayal as Salima explains that decision is one of the most moving scenes you’ll see on a New York stage this year. She recounts her tragedy which started out a beautiful day like any other with a clear sky and garden tomatoes to be picked. There is not a dry eye in the house when she finishes and exclaims, “Oh, please God, give me back that morning.”

She blames herself for not seeing or hearing the soldiers until they were upon her. It’s a metaphor for Nadi and all the people of the country and the world who stand by silently and ignore what’s going on around them. They are like a parrot left at the bar by the last member of a tribe. The bird is the sole voice for the tribe’s history and when it is silent, the tribe will exist no longer.

Finally, it appears Sophie might have a chance to escape. The storytelling skills of director Kate Whoriskey and the playwright have so fully engaged the audience at this point that theatergoers lean forward on the edge of their theater seats in a united effort to will the girl onto a waiting truck. The portrayals by all of the actors, including the ensemble, are riveting. It’s powerful theater leading to an ending with a testament to hope and to the human spirit’s ability to triumph.

The Manhattan Theatre Club offers Ruined as a co-production with Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. It has been extended through Sept. 6 at NY City Center, 131 West 55th St, NY. For tickets visit

Christians might also like to know:
Sexual activity
Suggestive dancing

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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