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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ruined: A Play about War and Prostitution

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"You will not fight your battles on my body anymore."

You'll hear these words spoken by Salima, a character in the play "Ruined," if you get to see this production at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York next month. In the piece, Salima and some other women in the Democratic Rebublic of Congo have become prostitutes in order to survive, after being tortured and raped by soldiers fighting in a civil war Republic of Congo.

Playwright Lynn Nottage based "Ruined" on the present-day plight of the women and girls in the Congo who are defiled everyday in this region. In the play, Mama Nadi, the owner of a bar and brothel in the rainforest jungle of the Congo, purchases women for prostitution. She offers the women what she sees as the lesser of two evils -- they can sell their bodies for money or continue to be tortured and raped by monstrous fighters.

"In this world, the circumstance that draws the greatest alarm is women who are, as the title tells us, "ruined," who have been raped so horribly that prostitution is an impossibility," writes Steven Oxman in the November 17 issue of Variety. The play begins with a Congolese man talking Mama Nadi into accepting his "ruined" niece Sophie into her brothel in an attempt to protect her from the vultures outside the doors of her establishment.

Salima has come to Mama Nadi's place seeking refuge from the rape and her unsympathetic husband who threw her out after she was violated. Salima, whose husband now sees her as "ruined," ends her inner angst by killing herself.

Alexis Greene writes this about the play and its subject matter in the summer 2008 issue of On the Issues: A Progressive Woman's Magazine

Nottage, who received the MacArthur Foundation’s so-called “genius” award in 2007, believes it’s her “social responsibility” to shine a light on issues and situations that often do not make the headlines.

Nottage and Kate Whoriskey, the play's director, could not enter the Congo, which was still in the middle of its own (ten-year) war. But they flew into Uganda, where Amnesty International, for which Nottage had once worked, set up interviews with Congolese refugee women.

The stories the women told were horrific.

“Regardless of age, social status or race—in one case we interviewed a white woman who was a refugee—they all had one thing in common,” says Nottage. “They had been raped. [They were violated brutally] with things like bayonets,” she said.

Mutilated and shamed, the women found themselves to be outcasts. “Their husbands had rejected them,” says Nottage. “Their communities had rejected them. Friends didn’t want to take them in, because they had leakage and smelled of urine. They needed money for medical expenses and operations, and the only thing they could do was turn to prostitution.”

"Ruined" will begin limited previews at the Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 West 55th Street, on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 and open Tuesday, February 10. See it if you can.

Below: Lynn Nottage, author of "Ruined"

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