At Berkeley Rep, Oberon K.A. Adjepong (left) and Tonye Patano star in Ruined, a powerful new play by Lynn Nottage that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Photo courtesy of

We’re fighting wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.  The loss of life is terrible.  And in comparison to what has happened in the Congo, it is nothing.  The Congo conflict has caused the greatest loss of life of any war since WWII, and almost nobody in the US seems to know of it.

Beyond the loss of life, there has been a consistent and ongoing assault on women–over 200,000 known rapes, which is used as a weapon of terror, of control, of punishment, and is now seen as almost a right of the uneducated, poorly trained “troops”.

Berkeley Rep’s new play Ruined, written by Lynn Nottage and directed by Liesl Tommy,  takes on the subject of women, rape and the war.  It tells the story of a small bar in the middle of nowhere Congo, patronized by miners and troops of both sides–preferably not at the same time.  Mama Nadi (Tonye Patano) runs the place with an iron hand and a heart of gold. She takes in two new girls to work in her establishment, refugees who have been badly mistreated by troops of one side or the other, it’s hard to tell.  Sophie can hardly walk, she has been “ruined”, a phrase which is never quite defined–mistreated, maimed, gang-raped, general bad things have happened to her.  Fortunately, she sings like an angel so she can entertain the customers after all.

The set is wonderful.  The costumes are wonderful. The actors are wonderful, except that they are speaking in authentic west African accents, and are often impossible to understand.  We saw the play with Manfred and Margit Michlmayr, and none of us could follow the dialog easily.  If I’m more than a little uncertain of what was happening at all times, it’s because I couldn’t hear it.

The rebels visit the bar.  The militia visit the bar.  Salima’s husband, from whom she was abducted, comes looking for her but she is unwilling to see him.  Mama pays to have Sophie taken to the big city where she can get an operation to fix her problems, but she misses her ride in the hurlyburly of the war–and some dramatic emotion-mongering by the playwright.

More things happen (can’t give it all away), and the play builds to what you think is the conclusion, then goes on for another 15 minutes in what felt to us like a tacked-on happy ending with gaping logical holes.

We liked the play, indeed almost everyone does, that’s why it won a Pulitzer prize.  We just would have liked it better if we could have heard it.



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