Lynn Nottage’s searing tale of life at a brothel in the Democratic Republic of Congo “deserves to become the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama,” said Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun-Times. Based on a series of interviews with Congolese women conducted by Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey, the play “takes full account of the hideous strife that has wracked the region since the 1990s”—namely, the 14-year civil war that has left nearly 5 million dead and countless women raped and brutalized. Yet Mama Nadi’s brothel, where women’s bodies become secondary battlegrounds in the war, is also a place where “small acts of kindness and beauty offer glints of hope” against the hideousness of the outside world. Ruined is a hellish “heart-of-darkness story” that nevertheless teems with “the redemptive spirit that suggests the sheer persistence of the life force.”
Mama Nadi’s cardinal rule is “don’t take sides,” said Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune. Thus her character becomes “a metaphor for the most common Western excuse not to get involved in the DRC, or Rwanda, or wherever human suffering suddenly ignites.” That the savvy madam finds it profitable to trade freely with both sides hints at the self-interest that drives most people’s decisions. That she also attempts to take the moral high ground while exploiting “suffering women whose bodies and souls are ‘ruined’” is even more telling. Nottage’s play is not quite perfect: The ending is a bit pie-in-the-sky. But “the fundamentals are rock solid,” and the subject matter unforgettable.