CONGO LINES Rashad, left, and Bernstine share horror stories.

CONGO LINES Rashad, left, and Bernstine share horror stories. Photograph: Joan Marcus

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

The harrowed women in Lynn Nottage’s Ruined have gone out of the fire and into the frying pan, where at least the burn is controlled. On their own, amid the hell of the Congolese civil war, they have been subject to violent rape and sexual slavery—as well as ostracism by pitiless villagers who see only shame in their suffering. As prostitutes at the rural pub and brothel run by Mama Nadi (Ekulona), servicing soldiers and rebels alike, they are safer. They may be sleeping with the enemy, but they have beds.

The subject matter gives Ruined undeniable weight, and Kate Whoriskey’s admirable actors carry it unflaggingly. In addition to Ekulona—who smuggles the right amount of kindliness under her impregnable glare—they include Russell Gebert Jones as a sensitive trader, Condola Rashad as an elegant girl mutilated by bayonets, and Quincy Tyler Bernstine as a simple country wife who has been turned out by her family. (A nauseating monologue in which she recounts her history is the play’s most powerful moment.) The heaviness that imbues the drama with gravity, however, also brings a burden that Nottage’s writing cannot always shoulder. A more unconventional dramaturgy than Ruined’s—less carefully arranged and melodramatically spring-loaded—might have been even more effective in conveying the terrible reality of the Congo morass. But there’s truth enough here to scorch you.—Adam Feldman

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Manhattan Theatre Club. By Lynn Nottage. Dir. Kate Whoriskey. With Saidah Arrika Ekulona. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.