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‘Ruined’ tough to watch, but harder not to

Though “Ruined” is difficult to watch, it’s nearly impossible not to.

Though “Ruined” is difficult to watch, it’s nearly impossible not to.

The Huntington Theatre Company’s stunning production of this gut-wrenching tale — of Congolese women struggling to outlast a civil war — eases you in with humor, likable characters and an ambience that belies the truth of the situation.

Though Mama Nadi and her girls use liquor and companionship to keep peace among the warring factions, the facade quickly deteriorates and the atrocities of mere survival for these “ruined” women become the big, ugly truths that everyone wants to avoid.

Simmering just beneath the surface of Mama’s jovial demeanor is the repressed rage of a woman who was forced to stop feeling long ago, just to stay alive. Tonye Patano nicely captures this conflicted essence in a superb performance that never lets you get too close.

Her seeming favorite girl, Sophie (Carla Duren), is unable to perform for the miners and soldiers who frequent the establishment, so Mama makes her a bookkeeper and chanteuse. Duren uses Sophie’s limp to express physical pain, but it’s her chilling, steely eyed seduction through song that will send shivers up your spine.

Pascale Armand is equally impressive as the once-married Salima, and Zainab Jah is sheer perfection as everyone’s favorite party girl, Josephine.

The attention to emotional detail is staggering — and never better than the moment Oberon K.A. Adjepong’s sober Christian is forced to choose between a drink and the possibility of death.

Though seemingly insignificant by comparison, Christian’s struggle speaks volumes about the consequences of fighting to survive, especially during wartime.

Plot points

All are welcome at Mama Nadi’s watering hole as long as they leave their weapons at the door. Selling beer, girls and good times to miners, soldiers and government officials alike, Mama manages to maintain neutrality despite civil unrest and a constant barrage of gunfire in the background. But what’s really in it for Mama?

 
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