EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEW
The following are excerpts from the February 10, 2015 Baltimore Sun Review of Ruined by Tim Smith
With a nod to Bertolt Brecht's searing 1939 play "Mother Courage," "Ruined" is fueled by a powerful maternal figure who isn’t so much amoral as morally convenient. Mama Nadi does not care which side is winning the war, as long as the cash keeps flowing, but she does care intensely about survival. And her heart, however cynical and calculating, does have just enough room for those she takes under her wing.
Such a complex character requires an unusually gifted actress, which Everyman happens to have in resident company member Dawn Ursula. She triumphed in the company's production of a very different Nottage work last season, "By the Way, Meet Vera Stark." She triumphs again here.
Ursula truly disappears into the role. She starts by giving Mama an authentic accent and an authentic attitude (you know quickly why only the most intrepid soldier would want to mess with this woman), then adds one nuance after another. Just watch her, in the first scene, savor a chocolate caramel, as if the act of slowly stretching out the gooey center were a means of freezing time, suspending all worries.
The actress finishes by delivering authentic tears, the kind that can easily trigger your own, during the tense and unexpectedly sentimental final portion of the play, when Mama has to face everything she has long avoided — the true toll of war and profit-making from it; the danger of erecting barricades to keep others from getting close to you.
There is much more to admire in the production, which plays out smoothly on Brandon McNeel's masterful set and maintains a vibrant pulse under the finely detailed direction of Tazewell Thompson.
He gets a generally supple response from the large cast, which features one more resident member (Bruce Randolph Nelson as a shady gem dealer) and lots of Everyman debuts, including some current and former Baltimore School for the Arts students. Almost everyone could lower the volume a bit, though; a good deal of dialogue is over-projected.
For all of the bleakness in "Ruined," a glimmer of relief and repair can be found amid the fear and chaos. Whenever it seeps into the picture, even for a moment, the effect is deeply affecting. "There must always be a part of you that this war can't touch," Mama says. For her, and those she favors in her defiant orbit, that's victory enough.