In developing Ruined, a play about the horrors of the Congolese Wars in the African nation of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lynn Nottage decided to narrow her focus: "If I tried to take on the whole thing, it would be epic...so I decided to focus on one war: the war against women." Centered around Mama Nadi's brothel in a rural corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ruined explores themes of survival, hope, and tribal heritage through the lens of women's experience of war.
The women in Ruined, though they are Nottage's focus, are not portrayed as wholly good. The character of Mama Nadi, for example, could be viewed as a negative figure. She runs a brothel where she sells sex to Congolese soldiers on both sides of the conflict, seemingly immune to the moral ambiguity of such work. Mama's primary focus is her business, not the war. At the same time, Mama Nadi provides the only real refuge for women who have been forced from their communities after experiencing rape. She is an exemplar of survival herself and provides opportunities for survival for other women. Through the character of Mama, Nottage dives into the complexity of what it means to survive in a violent, immoral world.
Although the play is set in a rural area, nature plays a very small role in the play. Even so, there is a gray parrot who is frequently mentioned by Mama Nadi. Mama explains that the parrot used to belong to Old Papa Batunga, the last of his tribe. Now, the parrot, who speaks pygmy, is the only remaining voice of the tribe.
In many societies, women are considered the carriers of history; in other words, in their jobs as mothers and caretakers, they pass the cultural memories of their people onto the next generation. In Ruined, the women also share songs and stories with one another and with the visitors of the brothel, bearing their history through cultural expression. In wartime, then, attacking women is a way to attack a culture. The women in Ruined, much like the gray parrot Nottage describes, are bearers of the community's culture and history—the final link to a heritage that the war has set out to destroy.