The Pulitzer Prizes for 2009 have been announced, and I’m pleased to report that Lynn Nottage won the drama prize for Ruined, which I praised in The Wall Street Journal:
Lynn Nottage writes political plays–or, rather, plays about people whose lives have been touched by politics. This crucial distinction is what makes her a playwright rather than a propagandist, and “Ruined,” in which she shows us what things have come to in the bloody, brutal land that dares to call itself the Democratic Republic of Congo, leaves no doubt that the author of “Intimate Apparel” and “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” is one of the best playwrights that we have.
Inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage,” “Ruined” is set in a small-town brothel run by Mama Nadi (Saidah Arrika Ekulona), a ruthless businesswoman who is as hard as nails and as coarse as rock salt. Though her homeland has been reduced to the state of nature by the insane nihilism of Central African politics, she keeps the war of all against all at bay by insisting that her customers check their bullets at the door. To that door comes Sophie (Condola Rashad), a homeless teenager who has been “ruined,” meaning that her genitalia have been mutilated by rapists. Unable to prostitute herself, Sophie instead keeps Mama Nadi’s books, sings for her supper (very beautifully, too) and dreams of a day when the “bush laws” that have laid waste to her battered flesh will somehow be repealed.
All this is tough and truthful stuff, and it is to Ms. Nottage’s infinite credit that she does not present it as an illustrated lecture but instead uses the terrible realities of Congolese life as the raw material of an immensely compelling human drama about the lives and hopes of her characters, each of whom is portrayed not as a political cartoon but as a recognizable person. Like “Intimate Apparel” before it, “Ruined” is a plot-driven play that is put together with consummate skill, and its technical neatness adds to its theatrical impact….
My congratulations to an artist whom I admire greatly.
P.S. Be patient with the Pulitzer Web site, which is clearly a bit short on bandwidth.
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Here’s a short Voice of America video segment on Ruined: