Theater & Performing Arts

Ruined

When: Wednesdays, Sundays, 7 p.m., Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays, 2 p.m. and Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Continues through April 10 2011

It's perfectly natural to feel some apprehension upon hearing the premise of Ruined, Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning play about rape and genital mutilation in war-ravaged Congo. But don't dismiss it on those grounds alone. The theme is more a scaffold than a plot device, and it's fairly cryptic in the play. Women who suffer the worst atrocities of war are "ruined," and it's up to us to divine what the term means. The play's linchpin - a brassy, no-nonsense matriarch named Mama Nadi (Tonye Patano) - runs a brothel that also serves as a safe haven for women refugees. That premise requires a little suspension of conventional morals, but it's borne out in the drama of the play. Nadi's prostitutes have their own room where they read fashion magazines and paint each other's nails. They get fed. To a certain degree, they're protected. Ambiguously drawn, Nadi is both an exploiter and a protector, with a tender, sensual side that she can't always conceal - though it's apparent when she swoons over a box of Belgian chocolate or flirts with a traveling salesman (the excellent Oberon K.A. Adjepong). Loosely based on Bertolt Brecht's Mother Courage, Ruined benefits from shrewd directing by Liesl Tommy and a profusely detailed set by Clint Ramos. Through April 10 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre (2025 Addison St., Berkeley). $17-$73. BerkeleyRep.org.

Rachel Swan

Price: $14.50-$73

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