New York playwright tackles Congo violence

Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:42pm EDT
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York playwright Lynn Nottage explores rape as a weapon of war in "Ruined," set in a Congolese brothel, and says she hopes to stage the play in Africa to empower more women to speak out against violence.

"Ruined," which opened to rave reviews last month at the New York City Center theater and has been extended through May 3, is based on dozens of interviews Nottage conducted with Congolese women. Photographs on those women, in black and white, line the theater's lobby.

"Women continue to be brutalized in incredible numbers, and they continue to be frightened to speak out," Nottage, 44, who speaks softly and wears long dreadlocks, told Reuters. "Hopefully, this will provide some sort of forum for them."

"I plan to make it happen," she said of staging the play in Africa, where she hopes it will encourage peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where around 5.4 million people died from violence, hunger and disease in the past decade.

"Ruined," directed by Kate Whoriskey, is set at the shrewd Mama Nadi's brothel in Congo's Ituri province, where men are served watered-down liquor and are told to leave their bullets at the bar and their politics outside.

Mama Nadi's women prefer this fate to remaining in villages, where brutal encounters with soldiers are common.

"Ruined" explores Mama Nadi's bond with Sophie -- the bookkeeper and bar singer who is taken in after she is raped with a bayonet and left "ruined," or sexually mutilated.

Gunfire is often heard in the distance and male clients, many of them impulsive soldiers, lead the women offstage from the bar to the unseen quarters of the brothel.   Continued...