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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Memorable, Powerful Ruined comes to Intiman

Also see David's review of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Lynn Nottage's deservedly acclaimed, 2009 Pulitzer prize winning Off-Broadway drama Ruined receives an impeccably mounted production at Intiman (it is co-produced by the Geffen Playhouse in L.A. and runs there September 7 through October 17) directed by Kate Whoriskey, and featuring many of the actors she directed in the Off-Broadway production. The trenchant, but not humorless, and life-affirming play, set in a war-ravaged Congo rain forest bar and brothel weaves its spell slowly, yet powerfully. A near-full audience at the post-opening performance I attended gave the play a well-earned standing ovation at the curtain, proving audiences in Seattle are not solely seeking escapism at this time in our history.

Ruined
The ensemble of Ruined

Bar owner Mama Nadi (fervently portrayed by understudy Victoire Charles at the performance I attended) takes in two young women at the behest of her friend and rebuffed amour Christian, a traveling supply man. One is the short-statured, seemingly childlike yet rough-edged abandoned wife Salima, and the other his own niece Sophie who is a rape survivor who has been sexually "ruined" after gang rape by bayonet. They go to work for Mama, along with the sometimes haughty, proud Josephine, a disgraced chief's daughter. The women wait on, dance with, and provide personal services to an assortment of men, soldier's rebels and others, from the fierce and haughty Commander Osembenga to Salima's soldier husband, who comes in search of her, to the kindly yet ultimately weak and disappointing Mr. Harari. When war breaks out in earnest the women are challenged but enduring, finding hope and resilience amidst pain and torment.

Whoriskey's direction is artful and fluid. This is a great play for an acting ensemble and she has cast a seamlessly perfect one. Victoire Charles (an Off-Broadway cast member) impressed me greatly as Mama Nadi, especially when Mama showed her tender side in an act of charity that is ultimately and cruelly undermined. Charles, a stunningly lovely woman is perfectly in sync with the other cast members, and it was a pleasure to savor her fine work in this central role. Condola Rashad is heart-touching as the battered yet undefeated Sophie, and her flights into song are as notable as her dramatic work. Quincy Tyler Bernstine as Sophie is a very individual talent, and owns the stage in her big scene describing the day she was attacked and separated from her husband. She plays Sophie's ultimate decision not to reunite with him with heart-stopping power and grace. Russell G. Jones holds total focus whenever he is onstage as the amiable but simmering Christian. David St. Louis looks like a warrior and chills to the bone as surly Commander Osembenga, and Cherise Boothe is riveting and sultry as Josephine.

All technical credits are superior, from the shabby and tacky bar environs created by master Scenic Designer Derek McLane, to Paul Tazewell's vivid costumes and Peter Kaczorowski's haunting lighting design. Dominic Kanza's original music creates an arresting and insinuating effect, as does Warren Adams' mood enhancing choreography.

Ruined is raw, thought-provoking and action inspiring theatre. It is the finest play to grace the Intiman stage in some while.

Ruined has been extended through August 15, 2010 at Intiman Theatre, Seattle Center; $10-$75 (206-269-1900 or www.intiman.org).


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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