Eclipse Theatre at Athenaeum Theatre. By Lynn Nottage. Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 25mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
The cliché “War is Hell” falls insultingly short in the vision of Lynn Nottage’s harrowing 2008 piece about women caught in the untenable center of civil war in the Congo, getting its first Chicago revival after its debut at the Goodman Theatre and its subsequent garnering of the Pulitzer Prize.
Mama Nadi (TayLar), Nottage’s Mother Courage figure, is trying to maintain her bar and brothel as a limbo on Hell’s ever-shifting borders, serving both the rebel soldiers and the government’s forces—though it can be hard to keep track of who’s on which side and why.
At the urging of an old friend, the flirtatious professor Christian (André Teamer), Mama takes in two new girls: Sophie (Krystal Mosley) is Christian’s sweet, smart niece, who has been left sexually “ruined” by assault with bayonets; Salima (BrittneyLove Smith) bears her only visible scar on her face, though her husband and village have deemed her equally ruined for the unwitting dishonor of being kidnapped and repeatedly raped.
Aaron Todd Douglas’s staging for Eclipse—the first production of a 2014 Nottage season that will also see mountings of the playwright’s Intimate Apparel and Mud, River, Stone—is chilling in its intimacy but can also feel a bit underpopulated; aside from the two new residents, just one other woman gets a speaking presence in what seems like is meant to be a thriving place of compromised asylum. There are technical challenges as well, with sound designer Matthew Reich’s downstage speakers tending to drown out dialogue and Mosley’s stinging musical commentary.
Still, Mosley and particularly the fiercely magnetic TayLar convey the unstinting, defiant spirit that’s established Ruined as a wrenching entry in the new canon, rendering women who refuse to be fodder.