Dark Glass Theatre Company, Pacific Theatre, until Feb 17th
Photo: Jalen Saip
My Two Pence
My Two Cents
By Liz Gloucester
'You're in the Congo - things slip from our fingers like butter.' Mama Nadi
Leave your dust and empty rifles at the door; Enter into Mama Nadi's bar where you can relax with a beer and enjoy the company of one of her women. There are cards and cigarettes, there is music and dancing: a chance to escape from this ugly war - if you are paying customer. Mama Nadi believes in all things that can be weighed on a scale and opens her door to all workers and factions of the Congolese conflict. Her business is not about politics and while her actions may seem mercenary she serves her drinks with a side of compassion.
Mariam Barry handles the difficulties of Mama Nadi very well. We are introduced to a businesswoman who seems to have her cards held very close to her chest. So close - her desires and motivations are almost indeterminable. Ultimately her wish is simply to survive and this aspect, very much like Brecht's Mother Courage* does not make her likeable in a traditional sense. We are ill-equipped as a privileged audience to have any inclination of what her plight means. Unlike Brecht, Pulitzer winning playwright Lynn Nottage has chosen not to alienate the audience as much but instead to show how alienated and guarded Mama has been forced to become in relation to everyone, including those who show her affection. Barry casts a striking shadow over the occupants and customers of the colourful bar - tall and elegant with a defiant stare and hostess' shallow charm.
Though Mama complains several times of her responsibility to feed ten mouths we are only introduced to three of her charges, two of whom are bought by her at the beginning of the play. All have been subjected to unspeakable brutality and loss; they ply their services at Mama Nadi's because it is the safest place for them to be. I was blown away by these actors. The pain and charm they were able to conjure was breath-taking- it was nigh-on impossible to remember that they were in fact performances.
With one eye always on the prize, Rachel Mutombo's Josephine is a hypnotising figure of spice and sass. She allows herself to be swept away from the ennui of her life when the men are around, and her ability to turn it on and off makes it appear that she is almost hoping to be saved; Then just as suddenly - boom! - she grounds herself and slaps the nearest person about the head with that very dream.
'Ruined' teenager Sophie, is played by Makambe K. Simamba in a baptism of rage and vulnerability. From afflictive expressions and rebellious retorts to her stripped and heartbreaking songs - she provides the perfect aural and visual metaphor for the suffering of women and the beauty that veils it.
Nottage does not define what being a 'ruined' woman means. The writing and direction is such that a lot of the time we are left to imagine the worst, a blessing for some and a curse for others. For me, the most distressing moment of the play was listening to Salima's monologue detailing the day she was assaulted and taken from her home. There is an ornamented focus on her garden, the sky, and the magnificent appearance of a peacock. In contrast, the brutality that follows is economical and blunt and deserves no delicacy in the telling. I found Shayna Jones to be utterly compelling in this role; her tender movements and soft voice frame her story very effectively.
There are plenty of moments of light relief and humour in 'Ruined' that juxtapose the backdrop of barbarism. Mama Nadi's teasing interactions with Christian (Tom Pickett) are a delight to watch. These and similar moments allow the audience time to break and regroup; although some of the bleeding in of 'normal life' - as we see it - makes the pill even more bitter. It is hard to watch one such typical 'girls scene' - the three charges are bickering, painting their nails and listening to popular music while flicking through a fashion magazine - when we know the horror of their backstories and are unable to foresee a happy future.
This is without a shadow of a doubt the most important piece of theatre I have witnessed in recent years. I left in a state of absolute horror and devastation which is very difficult to put into writing. Dark Glass Theatre opens a world up to the audience that we are unlikely to have experienced and unlikely to have even heard of, tending as we do to brush away news items that contain horror that is too unrelatable. You will leave this experience a little more enlightened, a little more educated, reeling from the talent and possibly wishing that you had been left in the dark.
*1939, Bertolt Brecht - Mother Courage is a figure who profits from war and whose personal survival supersedes all, including the loss of her three children
By Lillian Jasper
Some theatre is meant to entertain, some is meant for us to bear witness. It is not to say that Ruined does not have its entertaining moments - in fact, the show is riveting and engaging - but that is not its purpose. Dark Glass Theatre has brought Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play to life with brutal honesty and a clarity of vision that’s rarely seen in Vancouver. Set in a bar/brothel in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ruined stands as a testament to the incredible endurance of women surviving horrific circumstances.
Director Angela Konrad has superbly crafted the rising tension and the encroaching menace from the surrounding conflict. Jacky Yenga and Mikaela Fuqua provide live music that, coupled with the atmospheric sound design from Corina Akeson and Jeff Tymoschuk, transports us from the intimate space of Pacific Theatre to the broken world of Mama Nadi’s bar. Carolyn Rapanos’s set and props are simple and effective. Megan Gilron’s costumes are gorgeous and vibrant (for the women), with plain fatigues and dusty peasant clothes for the men. Every element subtly urges us to focus on the women. This is their story.
I have nothing but raves for the entire cast. The transporting quality of the performances is grounded in their physicality and built upon from there.
Makambe K. Simamba as Sophie breaks your heart merely by walking across the stage. Rachel Mutombo has the weary sensuality of Josephine down to an art. Shayna Jones as Salima can only be described as a force of nature. She’s a river, pent-up behind a dam, that upon bursting leaves us devastated. Christian, played dynamically by Tom Pickett, is the most sympathetic of the male characters, which is not saying much. Many of the men play a wide variety of customers - soldiers from both sides of the conflict, generals, miners, farmers - highlighting the fact that the war on these women is fought from every side. The sisterhood and solidarity they find with one another is tremendously moving.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a mess of conflict that cannot be succinctly summarized here. One aspect that arises, and damns us for our complicity, is the control over minerals like gold, coltan, copper and diamonds. 5.4 million have died in the DRC since the conflicts began. Over 400,000 women in the country are raped every year. How can we know about these atrocities, and not be moved to action? Dark Glass Theatre is founded on the idea that empathy can change the world. The world needs theatre to move in this direction.
With Ruined, we are asked to witness this human tragedy by proxy and we must not look away. It is uncomfortable and necessary and done with the deepest of integrity. For all these women have endured, we owe them nothing less.