Two weeks ago I was invited to see the play Ruined at La Jolla Playhouse. Being a theater geek, I readily agreed to go to the premiere before having any clue what the show was about. The La Jolla Playhouse has a great reputation and some of my favorite plays (Memphis, Thoroughly Modern Millie) have premiered there before going to Broadway, so I was excited to see anything they were putting up.
A few days before the show, I decided to read up on what I was going to see. I knew that it was a play by Lynn Nottage (whose play Intimate Apparel I really enjoyed) and I knew it had won the Pulitzer. (My theater geek flag is flying right now, isn’t it?)
I didn’t know that the storyline revolved around the strife with the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Congo. This is one of the most difficult conflicts in the world right now, and I believe it is one that few people understand, or really want to know about. Because what is happened there defies what we want to believe is possible for humanity; both in depravity and in ability to triumph over circumstance. The Congo has been plagued with civil war, but several years ago the Lord’s Resistance Army fled Uganda and took up residence in the Congo, continuing their reign of terror in a new country. The people living in the Congo live in constant fear of kidnapping – the boys being trained to be soldiers in the army, the girls being kept as slaves, both being subject to humiliating and soul-crushing brutality.
As I read the description, I knew this play would be powerful:
As a civil war wages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mama Nadi runs a canteen where a soldier can spend the evening in the company of beautiful women — for a price. Profiteer Mama Nadi is determined to keep the war at bay and the money flowing at any cost. But it's the humor, hope and sheer force of the courageous women who work there that ultimately triumph.
The play begins jovially – Mama Nadi is full of spunk and personality, and within a few minutes you can sense that the audience is in love with her character. And then the play throws the first of many curveballs – Mama Nadi has been bartering over a purchase. That purchase? Two young girls that she will put to work as prostitutes in her bar.
Thus begins the heartbreaking exploration of life and survival in the Congo, a place where good people do evil things, where evil people have moments of humanity, and where people live in impossible circumstances. It was a play full of cognitive dissonance and questions – who is the good guy? Is an unthinkable circumstance sometimes the best of circumstances? And ultimately, can love triumph in the midst of evil?
I can’t say that this was an enjoyable play, per se. I spent much of the play wanting to close my ears, cover my eyes, and run out of the theater in horror. Because that is what we do when face with injustice, right? It is unbearable. I fought the urge to break into sobs during many points. The audience was riveted, and often gasped audibly as the characters in the play wrestled with issues that most of us will never have to think about. It wrecked me.
The play had all of the elements that make for great theater – suspense, intrigue, powerfully drawn and complex characters, universal themes, pathos, and a fight between good vs. evil. It was particularly powerful for me because of my heart for Africa, and specifically Uganda. The LRA has wreaked havoc on the children of this country, and to see the LRA soldiers portrayed as complex, human characters was profound for me.
I really can't say enough about this show. It was a powerhouse – educating the audience about the unique struggles of the war in the Congo, while at the same time exploring the universal themes of love, betrayal, and integrity in adversity.
The Wall Street Journal called this a must-see play. I have to say, I agree.
If you are local, you can see Ruined on December 10th and 20% of the proceeds will go to Invisible Children, an amazing organization (one of my favorites) bringing freedom to child soliders. You can follow the link below to buy tickets.
Friday, December 10 at 8:00 pm
Promo Code: InvisibleChildren1904
Invisible Children uses film, creativity, and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony's rebel war and restore Northern Uganda to peace and prosperity.
If you are interested in assisting survivors of the conflict in the Congo, check out the following organizations:
Project Concern International is a San-Diego based non-profit health and humanitarian aid organization dedicated to preventing disease, improving community health, and promoting sustainable development. With nearly 50 years of experience, PCI reaches more than 5.5 million people a year through lifesaving programs in Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
Survivors of Torture, International was founded in 1997 to build a healing community for survivors of politically motivated torture living in San Diego County. SURVIVORS has served more than 1,000 torture survivors from at least 60 different countries.
The San Diego Refugee forum is a professional association of organizations and advocates serving all populations fleeing persecution and seeking refuge in San Diego.