Friday, September 4, 2009


Performance Date: 9.2.09
Manhattan Theatre Club, NY City Center

All summer long I’d been hearing that Ruined was not to be missed.  So much so that when I finally sat down for the Wednesday matinee this week, I worried it might not stand up to built-up expectation.  I need not have worried.  Ruined did not disappoint.

As I left the theater, I tried to wrap my head around how they were able to pull it off.  The play is set in a brothel in the modern Democratic Republic of Congo, a country brutalized by years of civil war, and where a woman is said to be “ruined” when she is raped with bayonets, leaving her sexual organs mutilated and her ability to control her bowels compromised.  Not exactly light fare.  To put it glibly.  And yet the play still manages to realize the full spectrum of the human condition.  It is unflinching in its portrayal of the cruelty and tragedy these characters endure, and yet in the next breath, gives endless room for love, humor, and joy.  And it is equally unfailing at every subtle point in between.

How did they do it?  My best guess is that the folks behind this play must have been a very committed, supportive, and collaborative bunch.   I don't know how to achieve that kind of richness otherwise.  As an actor, I find it difficult to stay out of my own way.  It’s a challenge to not let myself off the hook, to stay open and courageous, to explore without knowing where I’m going, to reach for some place new rather than run to the familiar.  And while that’s my own particular baggage, if all actors, directors, designers, and dramatists have analogous six-piece luggage sets of their own – and the smart bet is that they do – then how can any of us get anywhere worth going without the help of our peers?  How can we create something sublime, without a fellow artist to lift us out of our usual patterns?   Yup, a true ensemble is the way to go in my book.

I’m thinking now of August: Osage County, which may have been the best example of ensemble theater I have ever seen (in a commercial setting at least).  I don’t think it’s any coincidence that both August and Ruined feature artists who worked closely together for long periods of time before their respective plays reached the public eye.

So what did I learn in addition to this reaffirmation of ensemble?  My bullets of the day:
  • There is nothing better than the moment you walk into a space and see a set for the first time.  A nighttime forest of tropical tree trunks, bathed in a warm and threatening red light -- a great first impression which made me eager in my seat.

  • You can slay an audience with a single line: “You will not fight your battles on my body anymore.”

  • A gesture is made powerful when it is married with clear intention and supported by high stakes.  The persistent strength of his hand clasping hers, arms straight above their heads.  The clean and firm beckoning of his other hand as he pulls her into a dancer’s embrace.  The length of time this takes telling the story of a strong and injured woman allowing a man inside.

  • I love me some African dance.  And drumming, yes please!  And a jubilant curtain call, yes!  That's the tops.
I wish all of you could see Ruined, those of you who haven't.  I'm sure there will be plenty of regional productions in the coming years and the strength of the script alone (from current superstar Lynn Nottage) will definitely make it worth your while.  With any luck, it will be built with the same supportive collaboration I suspect this production enjoyed.  Then again, who knows?  Maybe it was a hot, raging mess and it came together anyway.  Who am I to say?  I'm just a blogger.

Until next time.  Thanks for reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment