In a time when shows, such as “The Client List” and “Secret Diary of a Call Girl” glamorize prostitution and the objectification of women, Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined” is a much-needed dose of harsh reality. The play, set in war-ravaged Africa, takes a look at the lives of three young women who work in a brothel and the brothel owner herself, Mama Nadi (Rozlyn Sorrell). Ruled with an iron fist and a subtle hint of kindness, Mama Nadi’s “girls” include bitter Salima, gut-wrenchingly portrayed by Madelynn Poulson in an impressive professional theatre debut; sassy Josephine ( Sherida McMullan); and, last but not least, the “ruined” Sophie, played as wide-eyed and heartbreaking by Reanna Roane.
Serving as a stark juxtaposition to the sad looks in the girls’ eyes and the dire circumstances they face are bold, colorful costumes by Katrina Blose and a set that turns festive in an instant, complete with colored lights, dancing, and singing. The contrast beautifully highlights the sadness of the situation—the forced smiles, the feigned enjoyment, and the always-at-hand threat of death.
Director Rebecca Holderness is not afraid to make the audience intensely uncomfortable or to fill the stage with action. In many scenes, there are multiple places and characters to watch, but beautiful lighting touches by Matthew Adelson highlight the more poignant moments, which include emotionally intense monologues from all of the female actresses. The scene transitions are smooth—so smooth in fact that the discomfort never lets up; the audience, like the characters, is never allowed to escape, a feature that makes this play all the more moving.
While Nottage’s dialogue can get a little too wordy at times, a strong cast and near-perfect direction create an essentially flawless production. The semi-romantic, glass-slipper ending may not sit right with all viewers, but it does speak to a possibility of hope for these characters; and hope is something desperately needed after viewing this sad but incredibly moving piece of theatre.