Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







« Suddenly, Last Summer | Main | Snowbound »


Even in the worst of circumstances, people manage to carve out something that looks like merriment. In Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Ruined, one watering hole and brothel is the purportedly carefree backdrop for a steely-eyed look into the exceptional barbarity of war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For this challenging production, Plowshares Theatre Company moves to the downtown Detroit Boll Family YMCA, where director Gary Anderson lets these truth-inspired accounts of atrocity against civilian women carry their own significant weight.

Most of the play is confined to a small DRC social establishment, catering to the local miners’ intoxicant and carnal needs. Scenic design by John Manfredi imagines a festive, if slipshod, open-air edifice whose ambience doesn’t appear to be its primary draw. Cheaply furnished, with strings of lights stretched over the bar and a small platform for live music, the modest arrangement is just hospitable enough to bring in the men for a few rounds before enjoying some paid companionship; it’s an oasis without the kind of ostentation that courts trouble. The place is run by Mama Nati (Iris M. Farrugia), a salty proprietor and shrewd businesswoman who fights to keep political allegiances outside her walls — after all, everyone’s money spends the same. She prides herself in securing bright luxuries, conjured by properties designer Jennifer Maiseloff: inaccessible beer, cigarettes, and other delicacies. However, at the play’s start, Mama’s clumsily flirtatious supplier Christian (Augustus Williamson) also brings her a pair of young women in need of shelter and protection, with nowhere else to turn.

Mama Nati’s girls enter the sex trade with their eyes open; because the dangers outside are even more nefarious, her dubious employ represents something of a warped blessing. In the DRC’s longstanding civil conflicts, women have unconscionably become collateral damage: vicious scars of abuse are visible on faces and necks, but the worst of these injuries is not in a place that the viewer can see. The play’s title is a horrifying euphemism for a woman whose extreme wounds from rape by soldiers have left her genitals irreparable; for the brutally young Sophie (Tiffany Small), searing pain is evident in her stance and walk, but Mama agrees to take her in as a favor to Christian. Under the eye of the watchful alpha Josephine (K Edmonds), Sophie and Salima (Mandi Masden) stay attentively deferent as their clientele is overrun first with rebel militia members, then with government soldiers; they strive to keep their heads down and their options open as the conflict moves ever closer. Meanwhile, Farrugia’s outspoken Mama has no plans to close up shop, believing her fearlessness will outrun her short-sightedness even as the various clientele demand she choose sides and inform on their enemies.

Several of the male actors play multiple roles as miners and various soldiers (facilitated by Leslie Littell’s codified costume design); although the device fills the bar scenes with bustle, it tends to render the customers interchangeable. (The other men who appear onstage are a trio of uncredited musicians, who keep the atmosphere cool at heated times.) Clearer focus is afforded the women, who supply the most rewarding performances of the production, especially off-hours scenes in which the denizens of Mama Nati’s carefully speak their minds and dare to indulge in frivolity. Whereas Small is telling in her silences, Masden’s tormented Salima paints a vivid picture of the random brutality that separated her from her child and led her husband, Fortune (Quentin Crump), to denounce her. Yet the most intriguing of the three is Josephine, a committed temptress and trusted second in command with dreams of being a kept woman; in Edmonds’s hands, confident authority and prodigious self-interest are molded into a purely electric persona. Of the men, Armond Jackson’s fearful power as Commander Osembega drives the rising action, and the vigilant Crump’s remorse helps sell his bond to Salima without them directly interacting. Fortune’s scenes are largely relegated outside the club, in a dark and stormy downstage corridor set off by Aaron Tabaczynski’s lighting design.

Despite the dependence of Mama Nati’s business on amusement and indulgence, and despite moments of well-received levity, there's no mistaking Ruined for a fun play. Rather, this compelling drama requires the cheeriest of packaging in order to stomach its honest and forthright recounting of damnable women’s rights violations. The themes and issues are vitally important, but it’s the frank openness of the individual stories, coupled with Anderson’s gently sincere direction, that clutch at the viewer’s guts and mind.

Ruined is no longer playing.
For the latest from Plowshares Theatre Co., click here.