Western Michigan University theater students will perform the Pulitzer prize winning drama, Ruined Thursday night.
“The play takes place in the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of Congo," says Director Awoye Timpo. "And it’s all about the lives of the men and women who have been affected by the war that’s been going on there.”
The conflict in the Congo has been going on for more than 15 years. While there are several reasons why the war started, American playwright Lynn Nottage focuses on our part in the conflict. Specifically our cell phones, laptops, and diamond jewelry. The Congo has been torn apart over the minerals that help power this technology. But Timpo says the war itself is only a small part of the play.
“The war is a backdrop and the violence is a backdrop to the story of these women’s lives and these men’s lives, but at the end of the day they’re people. So it’s all about how people are dealing with their own circumstances in their lives.”
And in anyone’s life, there are ups and downs. The devastation of war is balanced out by entertaining characters and some pretty catchy music. WMU student Marissa Harrington plays Mama Nadi, the main character in the story:
"She has risen from her own personal experiences with the conflict with having her family taken away from her. And arisen out of the ashes basically as a business woman and is determined to profit off of the war as well as, in her own way, help the women that are like her—that have been displaced by the war. So that’s why I say she’s very complicated because she is running a brothel first and foremost, but at the same time she is one of the only places—maybe the only place—in this area where the women can come and be safe.”
Christopher Martin portrays Christian, a salesman who sells some of the women in the play to Mama Nadi. By selling his niece Sophie to Mama Nadi, he hopes to keep her safe. Sophie, played by Tia Pinson, lives in constant pain from the sexual violence she suffered. Salima, another girl sold to Mama Nadi, has escaped Sophie’s fate, but was forced to leave behind her village and her family.
“People that live in this Western society, sometimes we forget about the liberties of—when things happen, we can report it to the police. There’s that higher power," says Janai Travis, who plays Salima. "The tragedy of the play is not that it happened but that it’s happening. It’s still happening. Rape is happening everywhere.”
Western student Patrick Conahan plays Mr. Herrari a Lebanese mineral merchant who’s a regular at the brothel. Conahan says Herrari is pretty removed from most of the conflict in the play, which makes him feel powerless.
“I am in this bar witnessing all of these atrocities and it doesn’t matter if I stand up because—if it actually happened in real life—they would shoot me for standing up to them," says Conahan. "And the play addresses what you do in that situation. And the beauty of it is that people do stand up to it and it does change.”
You can see Ruined at WMU’s Shaw Theatre in Kalamazoo starting Thursday night at 8. Be advised, there is strong language and sexual content in this play.