Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.


Also see Susan's review of Side by Side by Sondheim

Jenny Jules and Rachael Holmes
According to Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., its current production of Ruined in the Fichandler Stage is the first time Lynn Nottage's intense drama has been staged in the round. Director Charles Randolph-Wright uses the arena setting to draw the audience deep into the world of Mama Nadi (Jenny Jules), who runs a bar and brothel in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the midst of its recent civil war.

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 militias—and 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 pain—so 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.

Arena Stage
April 22nd - June 5th
By Lynn Nottage
Mama Nadi: Jenny Jules
Christian: Jeremiah W. Birkett
Salima: Donnetta Lavinia Grays
Sophie: Rachael Holmes
Josephine: Jamairais Malone
Guitarist: Mongezi Chris Ntaka
Guitarist: Waldo Robertson
Percussionist: David Foreman
Traditional African Instrumentalist, Laurent: Daniel Ssuuna
Jerome Kisembe: Clifton Duncan
Soldier: Segun Akande
Soldier: Jude Tibeau
Mr. Harari: Lawrence Redmond
Cmdr. Osembenga: Babs Olusanmokun
Simon: JaBen A. Early
Fortune: Psalmayene 24
Soldier, Aid Worker: James J. Johnson
Ensemble: Jamar Brown, Ellentinya I. Dodd, Thony Mena, David Samuel, Anastasia Stewart, Hectorlyne P. Wuor
Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or

Photo: Joan Marcus

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