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Posts Tagged ‘Ruined’

Last Thursday on the way home from a shoot I stopped at the Barnes & Noble in Iowa City. In the film/theater section I saw the book version of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined. It’s a play I saw last Saturday in New York and it seems like I’ve been blogging about it ever since. The Iowa City Barnes & Noble happens to be where I bought the printed version of Diablo Cody’s Juno script. (And until I bought the only copy they had of Ruined it sat just one shelf away from the Newmarket Press publication of the Juno script.)

It seemed to be a fitting way to bookend an Pulitzer Prize-winning play and an Oscar-winning screenplay. And I should point out another intersection for the two works is right here in the heartland. Ruined was commissioned and originally staged by the Goodman Theater in Chicago and Diablo Cody was born and raised in the Chicago area.

Though one story is set in the Midwest and one in the Belgian Congo they both feature strong female roles, they both use humor to deal with serious situations, music plays a key role in both stories, and they both come in at almost the same page count (Juno at 101 pages and Ruined at 97 pages).

Of course there are differences in the stories but perhaps the most encouraging thing (especially for the female writers out there) is how these two original works have been so well received. And while you can run down to a store today and get a DVD of Juno, seeing a performance of Ruined is a little more difficult. So do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Ruined at a local bookstore or at Amazon.

And just so you know Iowa isn’t out of touch (and you’re new to this blog), Diablo Cody got her B.A. in Media Studies at the University of Iowa and just a few months ago the theater group at UI performed Nottages’ play Intimate Apparel.

Related post:

The Juno-Iowa Connection

Lynn Nottage & Her Play “Ruined”

Scott W. Smith

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Until last Saturday afternoon I was unfamiliar with the name Kate Whoriskey. By the time the afternoon turned to evening I was sure that everyone would eventually become familiar with the name Kate Whoriskey. Whoriskey directed Lynn Nottage’s  Pulitzer Prize-winning play Ruined which just finished its run in New York. She’s been called “one of the most admired directors in the American theatre today.”

Whoriskey comes with solid credentials with an ungraduate degree from NYU and an MFA from the American Repertory Theater at Harvard (A.R.T.). After graduating from A.R.T. in 1998 she soon directed Ibsen’s The Master Builder. She’s directed plays in in Louisville, Utah, Alaska, Chicago as well as various theaters in California and New York. 

She recently has been appointed as the artistic director of the Intiman Theater in Seattle beginning in 2011. She has said that one of the reason to move from New York to Seattle is to escape commercial pressures of the New York theater scene as well as for more aesthetic freedom. (Maybe I should start another blog—”Playwriting from Iowa…or wherever you live outside New York.”

Whorisky’s role was not simply directing Ruined but helping Nottage in her research including traveling with her to Uganda to interview women who had been raped and abused in the Congo. It was an experience that had a profound effect on Whoriskey and she later told NPR:

“They were all beautifully dressed, these 15 women, so colorful and beautiful. And then we heard these stories. And the stories were devastating, and to hear them back to back. … I didn’t actually recognize that rape had such physical consequences. I always thought of the psychological, but not the physical consequences. It was hard to hear, over and over, how ruined these woman’s bodies were.” 
                                 
To watch a short video with Kate Whoriskey and Lynn Nottage visit Charlie Rose “A conversation about the play Ruined.

 

Scott W. Smith

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What do the plays Ruined and Driving Miss Daisy have in common? They both won the Pulitzer Prize in Drama and both happened to have been written by graduates of Brown University (Lynn Nottage ’86 and Alfred Uhry ’59). I’ve been thinking a lot about Ruined after seeing it last Saturday and for some reason it made me think of Driving Miss Daisy today and then I stumbled on this interesting connection between them. (And just for good measure I should point out that another Brown graduate, Nilo Cruz, also won the Pulitzer in 2003 for his play Anna in the Tropics.)  

In 2008 Nottage was asked by Alexis Green “Are you combining Activism and playwriting?”

“They are two passions. I feel it’s my social responsibility to shine a light on areas that don’t get seen. My personal feeling is that it’s an artist’s responsibility to be engaged with the culture. And when the culture is going through turmoil, I think an artist can’t ignore that. I don’t feel that every artist has to be politically engaged, but I can’t imagine that you can be an active participant of this culture and not in some way reflect that in the work you are creating.”
                                                           Lynn Nottage 
                                                           League of Professional Theatre Women

 

To learn more about Nottage visit her website at www.lynnnottage.net.

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A few years ago I read that in this world that there are over 200 civil wars going on at any one time. We don’t hear about most of them because it would be sensory overload. But when things reach a certain level then the press or the government makes Americans aware of what’s going on. In the little traveling I have done outside the states I have sometimes wondered what keeps certain countries from total collapse.

Seeing Lynn Nottage’s play Ruined takes in a place that has collapsed. Set in the war torn Demoratic Republic of Congo (formerly know as Zaire and the Belgian Congo).  It’s a country that had over 5 million people die in the Second Congo war between 1998-2003. It was also a war where accounts of rape and other brutal acts of violence were widespread. (Nottage has pointed out that though the war is over violence on women continues in that region.)

If you’ve seen the movie Hotel Rwanda which took place is the neighboring country of Rwanda in 1996, and later spilled over into Zaire, you begin to have an understanding of the situation. Another slightly older reference is when the area was known as the Congo Free State it was the setting for Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness which was published over 100 years ago (and for which in turn was the beginning point for Coppola’s Apocalypse Now.)

Somewhere in hearing the modern day suffering of women in the Demoratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Nottage decided there was something worth exploring. According to an article by Patrick Pacheco in the L.A. Times Nottage spent two months “at a Uganda refugee camp interviewing women who had been raped and brutalized in the fierce Civil War that has wracked the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo for decades.”

He quotes Nottage about her desire to write a play on what she had seen and heard, “I thought to myself, ‘This play will be the ruin of me.’ I knew I wanted to tell a story that was not agitprop, that was universal, epic and unabashedly theatrical. Something truthful and yet joyful. And I didn’t know how I was ever going to do that.”

But somehow she did and won the Pulitzer Play in drama this year. I was fortunate to see the play in its last weekend in New York this past Saturday. It’s a powerful piece of drama and instantly took me back to high school when an African-America creative writing teacher showed our class the film A Raisin in the Sun and I began to have a whole new understanding of drama beyond Smoking and the Bandit. That class is also where I first heard the name Zora Neale Hurston. A writer who Nottage has been compared to.

Nottage’s skill as a playwright did not come from nowhere. She was raised in Brooklyn around a family of storytellers and where she began writing plays as a teenage and later graduated from Brown University and has an MFA in Drama from Yale. While working for Amnesty International she wrote a short play called Poof! that she submitted to the Actors Theater of Louisville where it won a competition and she was off to the races.

Since then many of her plays have been performed; Mud, River and Stone, Por’Knockers, Crumbs from the Table, and Intimate Apparel. And in 2007 she was named a recipient of the MacArthur Genius Award.

Before Ruined found its way to the stage at the Manhatten Theatre Club it was first commissioned and produced by the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. The performance I saw in New York was theater at its best. It’s hard to be transplanted from a beautiful summer day in the city to some harsh realities in war-torn Africa–but somehow Nottage and the actors made it as seemless a transition as taking the subway from Grand Central Station to the Bronx.

And part of Nottage’s gift and talent as a writer is show us an incredibly painful world full of moral ambiguity and depravity and to weave a story of humor, humanity and hope.

Scott W. Smith


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“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
                                    Blanche DuBois’ character in A Streetcar Named Desire
                                    written by Tennessee Williams (Univ. of Iowa grad)
 

Last Friday after my shoot in New York I asked an actress what was the must see play in New York and she said Ruined. I was unfamiliar with the play written by Lynn Nottage despite it winning the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year.  So it was time I got up to speed. In pervious trips to New York I had seen Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Chekhov’s Three Sisters and was game for a drama as they appeal to me more than the large musicals.

I was told tickets were $75 so I was hoping to score some discounted tickets. Then I found out the show was closing its run on Sunday which meant that getting tickets to see one of the last three performances Ruined might be a challenge. I found out that all three performances were in fact sold out, but that I could come to the box office and see if there were any returns.

So here is the short story of how I relied on the kindness of strangers.

The first stranger to help told me which subway to take to get to the City Center where Ruined was being performed. The second stranger to help asked me if I wanted to use her subway ticket that was still good for another hour. I arrived at the City Center box office half an hour before the window even opened and an hour and a half before the performance. And there was already a line of 13 people.

As the line grew longer we were told that only a handful of people would probably get in. At least one couple toward the back of the line sent one person into the street and the eventually got tickets which was a little frustrating. It was turning into its own little drama. As it got closer to the time for the start of the play the line in front of me got smaller but it the odds didn’t look good. Would I be best to try my luck on people walking in who had an extra ticket?

Since I had waited in line so long I decided to try my luck staying in line. The was only one person in front of me when the lady at the box office told the group in line that there were no more tickets. Sorry. Thanks for playing. A few of us lamented about how close we came. The women in front of me said she came half an hour before me and somehow that made me feel better. The guy behind me was from L.A. was flying back and this was the only performance he could try and see. I at least could come back for the show that night and try my luck again.

But I’m also not prone to giving up. And this is where persistence and providence met. I also factored into it that there might be one person running late who had an extra ticket. So all alone now to scrap for tickets I asked a couple people running a little late if they had an extra ticket. I got that knowing smirk that says, “Sorry beggar.” 

Then my third stranger of the day, Renee from Brooklyn, showed up. “Do you happen to have an extra ticket?” Without stopping she said, “I sure do. Follow me.” And a few minutes later I was sitting down watching Ruined. I’ll write about the play itself tomorrow, but what makes my story all the better is when I tried to pay Renee from Brooklyn for the tickets she said, “No, just enjoy the play. And pay it forward.”

I haven’t always depended on the kindness of strangers, but it’s nice to see it played out in real life every once in a while.

The whole experience made me think back a couple years ago when I was freelance producing for a company in Orlando and the owner of the company gave me a couple tickets to an Orlando Magic game just a couple hours before the game started. I couldn’t find anyone to go so planned to give the ticket away to whoever asked. I walked around for a few minutes before this little boy about 10 years old said, “Do you have an extra ticket?” I did.

He was savvy enough to notice I was giving him a valuable lower bowl ticket and his eyes lit up. Made my day.

Remember the old saying, “You have not because you asked not.”

 

Scott W. Smith 

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