EXCERPTS FROM THE REVIEW
The following are excerpts from the February 16, 2015 WYPR Review of Ruined by J. Wynn Rousuck
Actress Dawn Ursula can be counted on to invest her characters with passion and grit -- whether playing the beleaguered daughter-in-law in “A Raisin in the Sun” or a maid with Hollywood ambitions in “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark” at Everyman Theatre last spring. But as the protagonist in Everyman Theatre’s newest production, Ursula delivers her most gut-wrenching, heart-rending portrayal yet. The play is “Ruined,” the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner by Lynn Nottage, who also wrote last season’s “Vera Stark.”
Ursula plays Mama Nadi as a woman who is fierce, tough and brave -- qualities she has combined into a shell shielding her emotions. She walks with a proud stance, her chin held high, her voice forceful and confident. There’s no room for sentiment, certainly no room for romance. Even in the face of imminent danger, Ursula’s Mama Nadi seems in control, invulnerable. '
Eventually, Mama Nadi’s shell starts to give way, and long-suppressed feelings emerge. It’s a difficult transition to make credible. Ursula achieves it by releasing her character’s tenderness in a way that’s so tentative and conflicted, it’s almost unbearable to watch.
In almost all other respects, Thompson’s direction propels this harrowing drama with assurance. By incorporating one of the theater’s aisles, he refuses to allow the audience to distance itself from the troubling action. Designer Brandon McNeel’s outstanding set creates Mama’s establishment out of scraps of corrugated tin and old doors; the walls, like the women inside, are society’s discards.
This is the third production I’ve seen of “Ruined,” beginning with the 2008 world premiere in Chicago. Even so, it took time to decompress after Everyman’s intense rendition. That’s high tribute to this grueling account of suffering, struggle, inhumanity, and the moral, physical and emotional fiber it takes to survive these conditions.