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Unspoken Truths

blog lynnNottageUCSC’s African-American Theater Arts Troupe presents meaty play about women in the war-torn Congo

In the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Ruined,” by Lynn Nottage, Mama Nadi runs a whorehouse deep in the heart of a modern day, civil war-torn Congo. There, young women depend on Mama Nadi for more than just a job—in the fractured country where gunfire rattles the air and rape is common practice, Mama represents a chance for survival.

The story—reproduced Feb. 24-26 by the UC Santa Cruz African-American Theater Arts Troupe at Second Stage Theater—is a frank and frightening, but ultimately hopeful, portrayal of the gut-wrenching atrocities occurring in the Congo, and the incredible resilience of the women who endure it.

“It definitely brings about the idea that life is not guaranteed for everybody around the world—that people have to struggle just to maintain their sanity, let alone their survival,” explains actor Amanuel Zeryihun, who plays Christian, the poetry-spouting peddler who supplies Mama with such wares as American whiskey, lipstick, and women.

“It’s heartbreaking to see that these women are these battlegrounds,” adds actor Jessica Jones, who plays Mama Nadi. “Even though [the war] is so drastic, and people are saying it’s like World War III, it’s silent. Nobody is talking about it and that’s the problem.”

Both the actors and crew work hard to give voice to the struggle of the unheard by presenting an engaging play that provides insight into a hardly explored subject.

“For the person who has never been exposed to the ideas of war in the Congo, and war in any other country aside from the Congo, it definitely gives you the idea that ‘Wow, things are really happening,’” says Zeryihun.

Though complete with African accents, beautiful singing, and humorous drunken banter from stumbling bar patrons, director Don Williams says the play’s primary focus is on the struggle and survival of women in a society where they are often victimized.

“Being ‘ruined’ in this particular play refers to the women who have been de-veiled, torn apart from the inside out, where the joy and movement from living life has been taken from them,” explains Williams.

However, the play is as much about pain, as it is about love, strength, and the characters’ compelling relationships.

“Nothing has been changed [from the original script],” says Williams. “I value the playwright. They were impregnated with that word and they gave birth. And my job as a director is to make sure that the baby walks and talks and cries and smiles and laughs like it’s supposed to.”

One of the ways Williams and his cast are able to tackle such a sensitive subject, is by meeting in a circle before each rehearsal to discuss their thoughts and connect with one another.

“In doing this play, we have to go through this whole maze of shock and disbelief together,” Williams says. “The play should make you kind of pinch yourself or break out a tissue … but there are some stories that have to be told.”


“Ruined” runs Feb. 24-26 at UCSC’s Second Stage Theater, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15/General, $12/Seniors & Students, No Cover/UCSC Students. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 459-2159, or visit santacruztickets.com.

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