Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Side by Side by Sondheim
The play received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it's a shining depiction of people transcending the horrors they have to face and triumph simply by surviving. The Second Congo War became notorious for its widespread use of rape as a tactic by both government soldiers and rebel militiasand recent media reports suggest that more than 20 times as many women endured these attacks than was originally believed. Nottage created her play after interviewing victimized women and discovering, to her surprise, that their ordeals had not destroyed their hope or dignity.
Mama Nadi is a pragmatist who does what she must to survive in a hellish situation. The women she employs, brutalized by the same soldiers and/or rebels who are her customers, have few other options; their families consider them damaged and shameful and refuse to accept them. While Mama Nadi may be exploiting the women, she rationalizes that she also keeps them safe. To them, one side in the war is as destructive as the other, and this is as close to a sanctuary as they're going to find.
The play follows the arrival of Salima (Donnetta Lavinia Grays), a kidnapped wife who knows she can't go back to her husband (Psalmayene 24), and Sophie (Rachael Holmes), who has been "ruined"a horrific form of sexual abuse that causes permanent damage and constant painso Mama Nadi puts her to work as a singer and bookkeeper. They share a sleeping space in the back of Mama Nadi's place with Josephine (Jamairais Malone), a tall, proud woman whose father was a village leader.
Randolph-Wright has helped his cast create indelible characterizations: Jules' majestic performance, imperious except in the fleeting moments when she lets her guard down; Holmes' vibrancy, especially when she sings with four spirited musicians; Grays' pathos as she tries to define a space that is hers alone; and Jeremiah W. Birkett as Mama Nadi's friend and supplier of imported luxuries such as American whiskey and Belgian chocolates. The final scene between him and Jules is a beautifully simple moment in the midst of unrest and horror.
The costume designer, ESosa, helps bring the African setting to life through his use of rich colors and vivid tribal-inspired prints.