DUAL CRITICS REVIEW: Phase Eight Theater Company’s ‘Ruined’ at WJCT Television Studios

Jacksonville’s Phase Eight Theater Company notably opened a two-week run of “Ruined” on August 3, with remaining performances scheduled for August 10 – 11, 2018. The production is being staged at WJCT Television Studios in Downtown Jacksonville, a venue with ample free parking.

The play, by Lynn Nottage, received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  Nottage has received multiple awards for her work, including a second Pulitzer (in 2017 for “Sweat”) and the New York Drama Critics 2004 Best Play award for the well-known “Intimate Apparel.”

The play was commissioned by Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, where it debuted in 2008. Before writing, Nottage travelled to Africa to research the story’s major issue by interviewing women who had been subjected to sexual violence during periods of civil unrest and armed conflict.  “Ruined transferred to Off-Broadway’s Manhattan Theatre Club in 2009, where it ran for nine months, and has since been produced in a number of worldwide venues.

Ruined, Phase Eight Theater Company, WJCT Television Studios

Mama Nadi, the leading character (brilliantly portrayed by Cher Davis), runs a makeshift bar and brothel in a small mining town in the war-torn Congo. Her customers include diamond miners, soldiers, rebel fighters and traveling salesman. She runs a strict place, with no guns or bullets allowed on the premises. The young women who live and work in her establishment have come seeking refuge from the constant threat of physical violence toward women that pervades the country. Many have no family members who can provide safety; the family members have died during conflicts or have rejected the women after they were subjected to violent attacks.

JaMario Stills, Phase Eight Theater Company

Christian (Tekell Parker) is a likeable traveling salesman, who frequently obtains goods for Mama Nadi which at times includes new workers. He convinces Mama to take in two young girls Salima {Amber Brown) and Sophie (Samantha Watson-Corbett); both have been sexually assaulted by men.  Salima is pregnant and is separated from her soldier husband Fortune (Theo Canty). Sophie’s situation is worse, she has been “ruined” by the assaults, and the physical damage she has suffered is a liability; she is an unsuitable sex-worker. Christopher pleads with Mama to keep her as she is his cousin and has no other options; Mama somewhat reluctantly agrees she can stay and work as a singer and bookkeeper.  

Another regular at Mama’s is Mr. Harari (Carlos Semide), a friendly diamond dealer. He tells Mama that a raw diamond in her possession given to her by one of rebel patrons is very valuable. The third working girl we get to know in this play is Josephine (Mia Wilson), one of Mama’s girls with attitude, who manages to survive in this intense atmosphere.

JaMario Stills, Phase Eight Theater Company

Mama struggles to handle rising tensions in her own way.  As the play progresses, government soldiers led by the ruthless Commander Osembenga (Ryan Sinclair) converge on the bar at the same time as their enemies from the rebel militia. Director/Founder JaMario Stills has expertly cast five men who come on and off the stage portraying multiple characters, including miners, government soldiers, rebel militants, and several named individuals. The excellent cast included Terrence Scott, Rashsaud Simmons, Gabriel Alexander Pride, Joakin Foster, and Theo Canty.  

The resulting clash is intense as you might expect in a war zone, but we will let you discover the ending when you see it. There is a flash of hope for some, tragedy for others. The play is a thought-provoking depiction of the lives of women impacted by wartime violence.  

The set designed by Preston Johnston captures Mama’s bar and has a bedroom located at the rear. The songs sung by Ms. Watson-Corbitt were written by Nottage.  Guitarist Jaimz Mallett was positioned off stage to the right, and played excellent haunting music.

JaMario Stills, Phase Eight Theater Company
JaMario Stills

Production Staff included JaMario Stills (Director & Costumes),  Arianna Valeria Rodriquez (Assistant Director), Preston Johnson (Set Design),  Demetris Ballard (Lighting Design), Brady Corum (Sound Design), Ajamu Mutima (Music Director), and Christa Fatoumata Sylla (Choreography).

This was a terrific production: go see it if you can. And put Phase Eight’s next production on your calendar – “Anna In the Tropics” will be staged November 29 – December 6, 2018.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.