Ruined by Lynn Nottage is one of the greatest contemporary plays. It takes place in a bar in The Democratic Republic of Congo. The main character is Mama Nadi who believes, like Brecht’s Mother Courage, that as long as business is good and she avoids taking sides, she can survive the war. But, in the course of the action, head and heart come into conflict.
Mama takes on board two new girls, Sophie and Salima, both of whom have been subjected to extreme sexual violence. Inevitably Mama discovers that, in trying to shield the girls from further cruelty and appease both government troops and rebel militia, she jeopardises both their lives and her own profiteering livelihood.
What Nottage brings out strongly is the multiple sufferings inflicted on women. Salima is a farmer’s wife who describes how she was subjected to gang rape. As if that were not sufficient punishment, she is regarded as “ruined” by her husband who, she says, “was too proud to bear my shame but not proud enough to protect me from it”.
But, although the play vividly depicts a war zone in which women’s bodies are treated as battlegrounds, it has a glimmer of hope. Without minimizing the pain, it becomes a tribute to women’s endurance. Admittedly the climax lacks the ruthless logic of the Brechtian prototype. But, unusually for an American playwright, Nottage
deals with global rather than purely domestic issues and raises our awareness of the use of rape as a military tactic.
This play is especially important for me, having served an LDS mission in South Africa, I saw first hand the corruption that inhabits this continent. Even though it wasn’t the exact situation, but it is apparent everywhere you go, women are treated differently than men. It is a problem that not only Africa deals with either.