The process of putting together American playwright Lynn Nottage’s 2008 production Ruined has almost started in Uganda.
The play had been commissioned by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and was meant to present the plight of women in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.
To create the production, Nottage and Kate Whoriskey, the director, traveled to Uganda and interviewed women as a way of creating background for it.
Almost 10 years later, when the production was debuted at the Makerere University main hall, it felt like Nottage’s words and vision were coming home and not just visiting for days.
Directed by Charles Mulekwa, this production entirely depended on the university’s students of drama to bring to life characters that won Nottage numerous awards such as a Pulitzer, Drama League award, and Lucille Lortel award among others.
Ruined is set in a small mining town in DRC; Mama Nadi owns a bar whose clients are both miners and soldiers from different factions. But that is not all about her bar; Mama’s girls play a role that goes beyond serving whiskey, food and wine.
As Mama says it in most of the play: “They keep customers happy…”
According to documentation on Ruined, earlier on, Nottage had plans of setting the play in Iraq, but after discovering reports on the exploitation of women in DRC, she, alongside Whoriskey, travelled to Uganda.
In the production, a woman’s body is objectified as is the case in war situations – a weapon used by both sides. The women seem to use their bodies for assurance, while the soldiers use them to weaken them through rape and abuse.
With Ruined though, an element of Mama, who was well portrayed by Immaculate Namutale, comes in; in most of the production, she is presented as a saviour who has not only given the girls a job or shelter, but also saved their lives from being ravaged by the war happening outside her protective bar walls.
A third-year student of drama, Namutale’s character creates a question on whether Mama is part of those exploiting the women’s bodies or she is, indeed, a saviour that wishes the best for them.
According to the show’s executive producer Sylvia Antonia Nanyonga, presenting this production in the International Gender-based Violence week, November 24 – 28, Ruined re-affirmed the need for national and international activism against such violence in war torn areas.
In his director’s note, Mulekwa noted that Ruined is proof that anyone can write about another place provided they have empathy.
“What Nottage’s priceless drama achieves is that it is possible to enlighten the people of USA, empathise with those in Congo and educate those in Uganda through the vehicle of art.”
The show was restaged at Ndere Center on Sunday.