“Because it’s Africa,” they reply, almost in unison.
Adds Elam: “Africa has been the place you go to get coltan, gold, diamonds and people. Nothing more than a place to go to get your stuff.”
Sheaun McKinney, who plays the marauding Commander Osembenga, observes, “Nobody wants to admit how dirty their hands really are and have always been.”
GableStage artistic director Joseph Adler has been planning his own production of Ruined ever since he saw the play Off-Broadway in 2009. He calls the situation in Congo, Uganda and Rwanda “an African holocaust” and says the actions that spurred the play are unfathomable. But despite that tragic reality, Ruined isn’t a play mired in torture and gloom. Its women demonstrate strength; the ability to escape, however briefly, through music, dance and fantasy; and that human drive to reach toward hope.
“It isn’t despairing. There’s an arc to the play. It shows that a man can grow up and reject stupidity and foolishness. And that women can survive and triumph,” Adler says.
The director was lobbied hard by actors from South Florida and elsewhere, each seeking a role in Ruined. He cast the play almost entirely with local actors, though Orlando’s Trenell Mooring got the key role of the abducted Salima, and ex-Miamian McKinney came home from Los Angeles to play the frightening Osembenga. Also in the play are Jade Wheeler (most recently at GableStage in Race) as the “ruined” Sophie, Renata Eastlick as the sensuous Josephine, Marckenson Charles as Salima’s absent husband, Robert Strain as a traveling salesman who’s sweet on Mama Nadi, Keith Wade as rebel leader Jerome Kisimbe, David Kwiat as a Lebanese diamond merchant, and Devon Dassaw, Mcley Lafrance, Jerel Brown and Rico Reid as soldiers.
Wade is among the actors performing at GableStage for the first time. Also a playwright, he’s an experienced actor who has performed mainly at M Ensemble and the African-American Performing Arts Community Theatre, the region’s two black theater companies. He calls working at GableStage “a blessing” and adds, “I’ve been acting professionally for 20 years. In this theater, for the first time, I feel like an actor.”
He also has a very personal reason for wanting to be part of Ruined.
“I had a friend, Sandele Situpa, who was a child soldier in Congo and Tanzania. I met him when I was a member of the African Student Union at Miami Dade College North. He would call me and say, ‘Brother, I want to go to the bookstore with you.’ Or, ‘Brother, I want to go to the beach with you.’ I didn’t realize he was reaching out to me,” Wade says. “His experiences got to him. [In 2001] he went to the beach and set himself on fire. ... I have to use everything, all this guilt I feel, to bring honor to a real situation.”
Charles plays the young husband who finally realizes what he has lost in Ruined. He wrote and performed a harrowing set-in-Africa solo show titled Ballad of a Child Soldier as his senior project at Miami’s New World School of the Arts in 2009. A gifted, Carbonell Award-winning actor who has appeared in Superior Donuts and A Behanding in Spokane at GableStage, Charles and his family lived through a nightmare earlier this year when his half brother, Rudy Eugene, was shot and killed during his still-mysterious, now-infamous attack on a homeless Ronald Poppo.