RUINED, war with a happy ending.
Nottage, Lynn. Ruined. New York: Theater Communications Group, 2009.
In Ruined Nottage brings us very successfully into the horrors of the war in The Democratic Republic of Congo, focusing on the violation, rape and exploitation of women. The writing is very realistic, the situation is current and some of the names mentioned in the play are real, creating an almost documentary theater piece. Ruined shows the lives of women who are raped by soldiers, and afterwards they are rejected by their families. The body of women as a site for the war is depicted very effectively. The house of Mama Nadi appears as a refuge and salvation for those girls, being in fact a place where their exploitation will just continue. The women have no exit. Salima, a young girl and mother who was kidnapped by the soldiers who made her his concubine for five months, was then pushed away by her husband and family for dishonoring them. “He called me a filthy dog and said that I tempted them” (67), she says. The victim, as in many places, is blamed for being raped. She ends up in Mama Nadi’s house, working as a prostitute and getting pregnant. When her husband comes back for her, she knows she will be humiliated and rejected again, so she kills herself, stating: “you will not fight your battles on my body anymore” (94). Suicide seems to be the only exit for these girls. But the play proposes a salvation, at least for Mama Nadi. A good man, named Christian, will convince her at the end to settle down with him, and run a business together.
This play that opens a world of suffering in front of our eyes closes with a happy ending: the new couple dancing. I think that the combination of documentary theater and story telling is a very complicated task. The heavy weight of the scenes that happen during the play cannot easily come to an end in a happy ending. The tale ends, as a romantic love story, creating resolution and relief for the audience. But the images and words of the previous scenes stay with us, as an open wound. A good guy and a sweet romantic scene is not enough to heal it. I believe that this play should not provide a happy ending, because the reality that it portrays is still bloody and painful—those women are still trapped and suffering. The bitter taste of the war stays with us even if the tale ends happily. Perhaps the author tried to send a message of hope—and she makes clear decisions in the way she will send her message: The name of the good guy is Christian, and the salvation for Mama Nadi is marriage.
The political situation described in the play is accurate, using real names of dictator’s of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The common citizens are trapped between a brutal savage military army that represents the government, and the rebels. Mama Nadi, similar to Mother Courage, runs her business, profiting from the exploitation and desperation of the girls that have nowhere else to go. We learn at the end that she was also ruined. So the story continues in circles. The reality of the women trapped in the war in The Democratic republic of Congo is a tale to be told, only not with a happy ending. Unlike Mother Courage, Nottage’s inspiration, which does not spare us the grim reality of the heroine’s situation, even at the end – Ruined jeopardizes the message and the effectiveness of the anti-war screed by ending it in salvation.