A soldier in tan camouflage and a red beret stands behind a woman in an African dress, holding her arms. Another soldier seated on the right grabs her face.
Ruined at Invictus Theatre Credit: Brian McConkey

Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined can be hard to watch at times. Set in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, Nottage’s Mama Nadi (Tekeisha Yelton-Hunter) runs a pool hall where the women don’t just serve beer. Mama Nadi’s brothel is a place of refuge for the men on either side of the civil war that rages outside, the miners clawing desperately at a living, as well as the women who get otherwise swallowed up by the chaos. To the men who seek company these women are just bodies in a room, but they are so much more. And that is what Nottage wants you to see. 

Ruined
Through 3/20: Mon and Thu-Sat 7 PM, Sun 3 PM, Reginald Vaughn Theatre, 1106 Thorndale, invictustheatreco.com, $30 ($25 students).

Even though this 2008 play got its start at the Goodman, a company like Invictus Theatre is a perfect incubator for work like this. Their name, Invictus, means “unconquerable” in Latin. So too are these women unconquered by the trauma they’ve known. Although the performances across the board are magnificent, the women of this production (directed by Ebby Offord) shine as brilliantly as diamonds. Yelton-Hunter’s jagged-edged warmth suits the badass with a soft side that is Mama Nadi, while Jenise Sheppard’s gentle Sophie follows in Mama’s footsteps, not letting her abusers get the better of her. As for Jemima Charles’s Josephine and Courtney Gardner’s Salima, you can’t teach the command these two actors have over a room. 

Ruined is a testament to the necessity of intimacy designers like Lana Whittington. We cannot have honest conversations around topics like sex trafficking or abuse without a gentle hand to protect the performers giving that slice of life. If you’re going to see a play right now, make it this one.