Literary Criticism and Significance

Lynn Nottage’s intense Ruined reflects how women fight for survival amid tribal violence that is all too common in Africa. Her play focuses on the survival of women within a bar in the Congo. Nottage based the play on interviews that she conducted after traveling to Uganda. Her tale illustrates the rape and brutality of a decades-long war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Nottage traveled to Uganda because the violence in the Congo was too dangerous between the Hema and the Lendus and many other factions. She worked with Amnesty International in Kampala, Uganda, to identify subjects to interview. Nottage sought to explore why rape is such an integral part of war. She learned that the physical damage from the rapes was so great that many women were left without the ability to have children. Nottage’s story captures not only that brand of tragedy, but also the unspeakable violence of the boys who grow up to perpetuate such crimes. All are left psychologically scarred.

The play keeps the audience on edge as it straddles two sides of civil war: the government soldiers and the rebels. The mining town is the scene for rival factions of rebels and different militias. The pygmies of the Ituri Forest have left and the white colonists have returned to Belgium. Nottage has created a “no-man’s land, or no-woman’s land”—a place that resembles hell. The combination of war and poverty is a toxic mixture.

Ruined had its world premiere at the Goodman Theater in Chicago, directed by Kate Whoriskey. It later was staged at the Manhattan Theater Club in New York with essentially the same cast.

Nottage’s inspiration for Ruined was initially Bertold Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, in which Courage moves with the military. Mama Nadi, in contrast, stays in one place as the rebels and soldiers come and go through her bar and brother. The “children” in Ruined are also figuratively Mama Nadi’s, but she is more of an adoptive mother to the tragic lives of these girls that she inherits from the awful war. Nottage eventually broke from Brecht’s ideas and found her own framework for the play.

Her instincts paid off: critics awarded her in 2009 for her work. The New York Drama Critic’s Circle named Ruined the best play of the season. Lynn Nottage won a Pulitzer prize for the play in 2009.