ABSTRACT

The idea for Ruined (2009) was born in 2004 during a conversation between frequent collaborators, playwright Lynn Nottage and director Kate Whoriskey, about Brecht’s Mother Courage . Both women were drawn to Brecht’s heightened style and theory of epic dramaturgy to convey a political message. Nottage and Whoriskey were compelled by the notion of exploring women’s complicated relationship to war (Whoriskey ix). Nottage, who previously worked for Amnesty International, was disturbed by the ongoing confl ict over natural resources in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This confl ict, which has been raging for many years, has resulted in one of the highest death tolls of any war, as well as widespread grotesque human rights violations against women in particular. These acts of violence have been perpetrated with very little media coverage. Nottage imagined that staging a “Mother Courage of the Congo” could potentially call attention to the crisis. She and Whoriskey traveled to Uganda to an Amnesty International offi ce in Kampala and set out to interview Congolese refugee women as a starting point for an adaptation of Mother Courage . However, as research progressed, Nottage began to feel confi ned by Brechtian dramaturgy rooted in politics and verfremdungseffect . She wanted to portray the lives of Central Africans as accurately as possible and Brecht’s Mother Courage began to feel like a “false frame” (Whoriskey xi). While Nottage deploys some Brechtian devices in Ruined , much of her dramaturgy is intentionally antithetical to Brechtian theory. I argue for an alternate reading of Ruined as a text that revisits key strategies popular in nineteenth-century melodramatic formations, a contested genre held to be apolitical by many scholars, but which has recently received renewed attention and increased currency as a popular form of activist drama in U.S. theatre. 1 This essay identifi es Ruined as a melodrama and its impact as a politically active and feminist “dramaturgy of reform.”