The outskirts of Philadelphia are blessed with several high quality community theaters, and visits to them are a welcome treat for theatergoers accustomed to the cadence of center city professional productions. Located in graceful historic spaces, these theaters invite our enjoyment with free cookies and tea at intermission, large and enthusiastic audiences, and a joie de vivre in contrast with the world-weary struggles of independent theater.
Lynn Nottages’s RUINED, now onstage at Chestnut Hill’s Stagecrafters Theater, is community theater at close to its best. As is to be expected, the production lacks some of the nuance and performance quality of 2011’s Philadelphia Theatre Company production. But Nottage’s well-crafted Pulitzer Prize-winning script remains devastating.
Mama Nadi (Tiffany Bacon) runs a whorehouse in war-torn Congo, providing employment for young women who have seen battles fought out on their own bodies. She juggles visits from warring militias, with only her wits, strength, and ice cold beer to protect her and the girls from being wrapped up in the struggle.
This reviewer prefers drama drawn from more quotidian poignancy, but it is hard not to be moved by Nottage’s play. It exposes a dark side of humanity, never far away when we consider its equation of violence against individual women with the ravages of civil war.
Performances in the Stagecrafter’s production are inconsistent, and Catherine Pappas’s direction leaves too much wooden blocking (the actors could have been reminded a few less times to address the audience), but Bacon provides a solid backbone to the action. Erin Nicole Stewart shows strong emotional control in a heartrending monologue as a victimized young woman. And Maurice A. Tucker is convincing as a travelling trader in a love-story subplot that gives RUINED a sense of hope amid suffering. April 12 to 28, 2013, thestagecrafters.org.