Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined” arrives at Mixed Blood with quite a reputation, having earned a number of accolades in the last year, including an Obie Award for the show’s off-Broadway production and a Pulitzer for Nottage’s script.
It’s impossible to deny the power of Nottage’s tale about the life of women in the chaos of the modern-day Congo, with government and rebel forces fighting for every bit of territory and everyday folks, as always, caught in the middle. Though the script falters at times, especially in an ending that feels rushed and incomplete, overall it’s a strong piece. In the more-than-capable hands at Mixed Blood, “Ruined” turns into a riveting evening.
The story centers on Mama Nadi, who runs a brothel and bar in the country’s mining area. Her doors are open to anyone willing to pay and to keep their disagreements outside. At the play’s opening, two young women are brought in to work for her, including one who has been repeatedly raped and brutalized — “ruined” in the eyes of the society.
All of this gives Nottage plenty of room to explore issues of survival, loyalty and exploitation. For most of the play, Nadi remains hard as a diamond, only exposing herself in the waning moments of the show. The transformation is perhaps too sudden for the story that has gone before, the motivation for it never coming clear.
Those issues aside, the first three-fourths of “Ruined” makes for terrific theater. Led by Regina Marie Williams in a transformational turn as Nadi, the cast brings the sweaty, painful and confusing world to full life, bringing out humor in unexpected places and tense drama at the turn of a dime. Also give credit to director Aditi Kapil, who never flinches as the script moves into dark and heavy places.
“Ruined” runs through Nov. 22 at Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. Fourth St., Minneapolis. Tickets are $14 to $28. For information and tickets, call 612-338-6131 or visit online.