Lynn Nottage: Ruined began as an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage. I was working at the time with my collaborator, Kate Whoriskey, and we were really interested in doing an adaptation of that particular play and began researching various wars that were going on. And the war that really fascinated me — in large part because there was some information about it — was the war that was raging on in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And the two of us decided that we were going to set the play there.
And when I began reading the newspapers, I found I couldn’t find any information about what was happening to women in war. And I said to Kate on a whim, I said, “What if we bought a ticket and we went to East Africa and interviewed women who were fleeing that war?” She was a little frightened, a little worried, but she followed me there. And you have to remember at this moment we were still very interested in doing a modern adaptation of Mother Courage. But when we sat down with women who were fleeing the war, very quickly I realized that the European male frame of the story was not going to be sufficient.
The stories that we were hearing from these women were so specific to the Democratic Republic of Congo — it was so specific to African women — that I thought, “I need a completely different paradigm in order to enter this space.” And one of the things that really resonated when I was interviewing the women is the way in which they held the word “mother” in their mouths. I always asked each woman, how would you describe “mother courage?” and they’d always take a moment where they’d stop and they’d say, “Yes, mother courage.” And in that moment I thought, “I have to somehow capture that emotion,” and capture sort of the sadness but the resilience that was inside the way in which they held that language in their mouths. And so Ruined really came out of that.