'Ruined' at OSF

Mama Nadi wants the impossible. She wants to make her thatched-roof bar in a small mining town in the strife-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo an oasis, a place where brutality can cease for a few moments of civility and pleasure.

She has a jukebox, a hot meal, cold drinks — and girls. For a handful of dislocated, damaged women, Mama Nadi provides protection. Her girls sell their bodies, but that's better than what lies outside her doors.

Lynn Nottage's 2009 Pulitzer Prize- and Obie-winning play, "Ruined," will open in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's intimate New Theatre on Saturday, March 27, after previews Wednesday and Friday, March 24 and 26.

The play, with a theme of rape as a military/political tactic in Africa, stirred up New York last year in an off-Broadway run.

Director Liesl Tommy says the play is a tribute to the resilience of women and a testimony to the tenacity of hope. In addition to mature themes, the play has strong language. The OSF says it's suitable for well-prepared children 14 and up who are able to handle the mature themes and language.

"I had been interested in what was going in Congo for years," Nottage said in an interview in the spring of 2009. "I read the headlines and was greatly frustrated at not seeing women's narratives included in the stories."

Soldiers were raping thousands of women and subjecting them to brutal sodomy with rifles and other objects, causing permanent injuries. In 2004, Nottage made the first of two trips to east Africa. She sought out refugee women to talk with about their experiences. The first time, she visited refugee camps in Uganda accompanied by the director, Kate Whoriskey, who would help shape and direct the first production of the play. She returned a year later to study the impact of war on women.

In the play that resulted from her travels and research, Christian, a traveling salesman, shows up at Mama Nadi's with two new girls, Sophie and Salima. At first, Mama Nadi is wary. She doesn't need more mouths to feed. When she finds out that Sophie has been "ruined" by rape and is thus unfit even for prostitution, she refuses her. But Christian argues, predicting that her business will explode with the rush to extract a valuable mineral, coltan. He also admits to a special reason for wanting Sophie there.

Kimberly Scott, who played Mammy in the OSF's 2008 production of "The Further Adventures of Hedda Gabler," plays Mama Nadi. Salima is played by Chinasa Ogbuagu, Sophie by Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Christian by Tyrone Wilson.

Scenic Design is by Clint Ramos, costumes by Christal Weatherly and lights by Robert Peterson.

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