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Friday, May 28, 2010

"Ruined" at OSF

Ruined , by Lynn Nottage and directed by Liesl Tommy (click here for link to all plays, then click on Ruined for synopsis)

This is a great piece of playwriting, beautifully produced and performed by OSF. Bravo! Sincere and harrowing, emotionally engaging and probably deserving to be called great theatre. There's humor and humanity amidst the difficult content, and even quite a bit of wonderful music, though its ironic dramatic purpose undercuts the pleasure an audience member can take in it. There - I've said what everyone else I know has said about this play, and I agree: this prize-winning play is a must-see.

I agree even though, personally --and I know this is shallow of me--I'd so rather watch a Bollywood movie with singing, martial arts scenes and romance. Or see a beautiful Kathak or Bharatnatyam dance, or hear a symphony or chamber music or local jazz, or do any number of other things rather than sit through two and half hours of this excruciating play again. Like most people, I prefer experiences that make me feel better, not worse. The trick of great art is that it can take you through a harrowing experience and bring you out the other side stronger or wiser or generally glad for it - in other words, make you (yes) feel better. For the people I know who've seen it this play - set amid the ongoing war in the Congo, layered with history and politics, and focusing on the abuse of women by men at their worst - this seems to be one of those cases, and they enthusiastically enlist others to see it. The friend I saw it with had already seen it and was going back for more. So I think my own lack of emotional response to Ruined is not the play's fault, it's mine for being burned out (emotionally ruined, you might say) on the subject of human atrocity long ago. 

Many people have commented that Ruined offers some hope at the end, and it's clear from some devices and plot turns (which I won't cite here, in case you haven't seen it yet) that Nottage intended that effect, at least to some extent. But for me it just seemed to end in one of those occasional moments of growth and relief that life sometimes affords; these people, like people anywhere, can be happy or enjoy themselves now and then ("in the midst of death, life persists," as the video of "Bethe Bethe Kese Kese," which I've thoughtfully included for comfort and edification among the pujas and tonics in the column at left, reminds us); but that doesn't mean there's any real hope that this sorry species will ever evolve into something less prone to endlessly repeating cycles of self destruction, cruelty and suffering.

Still, we do what we can while we're here. Some people write brilliant plays, and others produce and perform them equally brilliantly for the rest of us - who, in turn, go to see and ponder them and, maybe, grow in compassion a bit, and do some small thing to alleviate someone else's suffering, or... whatever. Anyway - Bravo.

Yes, Ruined is probably what's called great theatre. Complex, nuanced, shocking, and universal. So if you are a theatre-goer you'll want to see it. Not because (as I've been told by some people around here) you "need" to see it (though maybe you do), but simply because it's brilliant as written, and brilliant in this production, and once this run is over, you won't have another chance.

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