Friday, September 28, 2012

GableStage: Ruined (6 reviews)

GableStage opened its production of Lynne Nottage's Ruined on September 8, 2012.
Winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Lucille Lortel and Obie Awards. This probing work about the resilience of the human spirit during times of war is a searing variation on Brecht's Mother Courage, translated to a brothel in the conflict-torn Congo. By the author of Intimate Apparel, a GableStage hit in 2006.
Joseph Adler directed a cast that included Lela Elam, Marckenson Charles, Renata Eastlick, David Kwiat, Sheaun McKinney,  Trenel Mooring, Robert Strain, Jade Wheeler, Jerel Brown, Devon Dassaw, Mcley LaFrance, Rico Reid, and Keith C. Wade.

Hap Erstein reviewed for Palm Beach ArtsPaper:
Despite its frequent flights of poetic language, Ruined is a brutal theatrical experience. True, the violence occurs offstage, but that does not prevent Nottage from describing it in harrowing detail, placing the words in the mouths of characters that she makes us care deeply about.

Increasing the impact at GableStage, where the play is receiving a gut-wrenching and eloquent area premiere, director Joseph Adler has gathered a large, impressive cast that brings the armed conflict and personal turmoil to vivid life.
At the center of the tale is Mama Nadi (a magnetic, maternal Lela Elam) owner of the way station where government troops and rebel soldiers alike stop by for a cold beer or a hot hooker.
Early on, she is visited by black marketeer Christian (a poetic Robert Strain) who persuades Mama — against her better judgment — to take in two teenage girls, Salima and Sophie (Jade Wheeler, barely recognizable from her recent button-down cool in Race).
Also impressive in the large cast are Marckenson Charles as Salima’s persistent husband, determined to stand vigil outside the bar to reunite with her, Sheaun McKinney as seething rebel leader Osembenga and a subdued David Kwiat as a trafficker in the gold and diamonds that have made the Congo worth fighting over
As usual, director Adler stages matters for maximum visceral impact, without sacrificing any of Nottage’s poetic flourishes or quiet moments. Design credits are first-rate, from Lyle Baskin’s bar set, with jungle foliage peeking through the porous walls to Ellis Tillman’s alternately vibrant and drab costumes and Jeff Quinn’s artful lighting.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:
It's a dense, story laden script, this horrific tale of utter inhumanity, but Artistic Director Joe Adler has presented it in such spectacular fashion and the actors are of such excellence, that we are transported immediately into the sordid confines of a bar cum whorehouse in the Democratic Republic of Congo and for two hours we suffer the pain of the ruined girls and finally rejoice in their vestiges of hope
Lela Elam is Mama. It's the pivotal role and in handling it as she does, Elam lays claim, once again, to being one of the very best actresses on the South Florida stage. 
Guitarist Verdi M. Mayer, Jr and percussionist Maracuja provide music for the singing and dancing in Mama's Bar and in one outstanding dance scene Renata Eastlake's frantic bumping and grinding brings new meaning to a touch of lust.
Lyle Baskin has built a two story set that overflows GableStage's wide playing area and it is a thing of beauty... When the lights are lowered for scene changes, light leaks through the cracks in the back boards and we see the pounding rain and can almost smell the rotting jungle.
Chris Joseph reviewed for The Miami New Times, you just have to scroll through paragraphes of recap to get to it:
Artfully directed by Joseph Adler, Ruined is one of GableStage's most ambitious productions to date.
Lyle Baskin's complex set design perfectly frames Ruined... Lighting designer Jeff Quinn and scenic artist Case Moyer reinforce the bar as a place of refuge by simulating constant lightning and gunfire ominously flashing among the trees outside.
The cast is simply superb. Elam, as Mama, is a force of nature. She sweeps across the stage with thunder and aplomb, every now and then revealing the fear that simmers just beneath the surface of this tough madam. Wheeler evokes earnest sympathy as Sophie...
Ruined brims with moments of suspense, humor, and tension, but at times it drags when one too many story lines are at play.  Still, there's no denying this work's raw impact. Rape is the ultimate weapon in the Congo, and Ruined is able to entertain while shining a stark light on the faces of its victims.
Ron Levitt wrote for ENV Magazine:
It is understandable why Lynn Nottage’s Ruined won a Pulitzer Prize for drama.  It is gut-wrenching, gripping  theatre.

It is also without argument that Joseph Adler has directed a superb version of this prize-winning play at GableStage – a production which will keep its audience enthralled, even if it will look away from the stage occasionally to purposely miss the violence.
The women in this play are unforgettable: Elam, in the dominant role, is superb; a gorgeous and multi-talented Renata  Eastlick (as Josephine, a gyrating whore who seems to enjoy the profession heaped  on her; Jade  Wheeler as Sophie and Trenell Mooring as Salima, the two teens who are brought to Mama’s for her care and to work as prostitutes.   Wheeler is a standout as she belts Congo music  provided by guitarist  Verdi M, Mayer Jr,  and percussionist Marajuca.
Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:
It is one of the finest pieces of local theater seen this season, featuring superb acting, notably from Lela Elam as an indomitable owner of a bar/brothel, and direction from Joe Adler that elicited those smooth performances.
His strength is nurturing actors to scrape the inside of their souls and lay it out for an audience to see. Nowhere is this more evident than in Mooring’s heart-rending recollection of Selima’s nightmarish months as the captive and unwilling sexual plaything of an army on the move. Adler and the actress deliver the tale with an anguish that lands the most moving scene of the entire evening.
Perhaps the real headline is the work of Elam and Adler in creating Mama.... a flawed human being rather than a symbol... She bravely embraces Nottage’s creation of a character at once vibrant yet controlled, uneducated yet street smart, selfish yet protective...  Elam’s eyes convey wariness, defiance, anger, affection, even a flash of secret longing for another life.
There isn’t a weak link in the large cast. Special mention is due Wheeler and Mooring. Wheeler here is unrecognizable from the self-assured lawyer from GableStage’s Race a few weeks ago...  hey persuasively expose inner layers of determination and resolve despite everything that has happened to them.
The statuesque Renata Eastlick exudes a magnetic carnality... The absolute abandon in which Eastlick/Josephine throws herself while nuzzling a patron or gyrating in a frenzied dance is stunning. But Eastlick also allows us to see Josephine switch gears when no one is looking and reveal a sullen contempt for her profession...
Robert Strain, also does some of his best work ever, inhabits the role of the cultured poetic soul reduced to peddling wares through the war-ravaged region.
Christine Dolen reviewed for The Miami Herald:
This superb production is the work of director Joseph Adler at his most artful and a large cast at theirs. These actors – particularly Lela Elam, Renata Eastlick, Robert Strain, Jade Wheeler, Sheaun McKinney, Keith Wade, Marckenson Charles and Trenell Mooring – are among the region’s best, and in a perfect world, their talents would be showcased far more frequently on South Florida stages.
Josephine (Eastlick), seems to be the most calculating and self-possessed of the girls. But watch Eastlick as her fierce, wildly lusty dancing gives way to an explosive expression of the anger and sorrow running just below the surface of her seductive fa├žade.
Held captive and repeatedly victimized by soldiers, rejected by her young husband and family, Salima looks at the world through pain-filled eyes. The story behind that pain, revealed with heartbreaking simplicity by Mooring, is one of the play’s most devastating moments.
...McKinney and Wade are frighteningly effective as the government and rebel commanders. And Charles is quite moving as a man who realizes, too late, what stubborn pride has lost him.
It is Elam, however, who dominates the play as clearly as Mama Nadi rules her kingdom. Omnipresent, mixing seductiveness and pragmatic tyranny, Elam crafts a character whose vulnerability remains resolutely hidden. Yet the play’s final image, a moment exquisitely realized by Adler, Strain and Elam, underscores the transformative power of hope. Like Elam, it takes your breath away.
Ruined plays at GableStage through October 7, 2012.

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