#CBR9 Review #60

Ruined by Lynn Nottage

I try to keep track of Pulitzer Prize winners, particularly in fiction and drama, because I like to have my pulse on what is winning awards and what I can teach in future classes. I saw that Lynn Nottage’s Sweat was this year’s drama winner and promptly went to my library. Of course, they don’t have it yet. So I decided the next-best thing would be to read her other Pulitzer Prize winner, Ruined.

In short, Ruined is about what happens to women before, during, and after a coup in a dictatorship. Set in the Congo, it showcases the complex and entrepreneurial Mama Nadi, who tries to keep both sides of the conflict at peace within her “establishment” (ostensibly a bar, but I’m also assuming unofficially a brothel). There, soldiers go to relax and often choose from a lineup of “ruined” women who are already prostitutes or who have been disinherited for rape (often by soldiers). We follow a few of these women and hear their stories, which makes the inevitable denouement of the play hard to read and process, particularly because Nottage developed much of this play from true accounts of the wars in the Congo.

This was an important read, but it’s a big concept, and one that felt difficult to translate to stage. I don’t know how you can bring a concept like rape to stage accurately and in a way that does not feel exploitative or invasive. I’d be really interested to see this play performed on stage, to see the choices the director makes in depicting this story. I’m also curious to read more of Nottage’s plays. I get tired of defaulting to white male playwrights, and a woman of color with bold storytelling choices is not something you easily forget.

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