Orchestrion (Pat Metheny)

Dancin' Stevie Wonder

Vanilla Sky


R & R Star's Aches & Pains

Eddie Van Halen, 55
Bone spur, twisted tendon, and cyst in hand

Van Halen had surgery to alleviate pain in his thumb and pinky that was so bad, he says, "I wasn't able to play at all." Now he'll hopefully have no problem playing "Jump" should Van Halen get it together to tour again.

U2's Bono, 50
Spinal injuries from accident during rehearsal

Back surgery derailed Bono's U.S. tour earlier this year. "There's a lot bigger problems out there than this one I was facing," says the singer, who is now back to performing. "But I came out of it perfect--I'm incredibly grateful."

The E Street Band's Clarence Clemons, 68, and Nils Lofgren, 59
Clemons: Bad knees Lofgren: Failing hips

Both had replacement surgeries in 2008 in the same New York hospital at the same time. Clemons says he needed two ice bags, two knee braces, and a golf cart to get to the stage. Lofgren says he now feels better than he's felt in five years.

Phil Collins, 59
Nerve damage that left him unable to hold drumsticks

After surgery, Collins played drums on his new album by gaffer-taping the sticks to his hands. "I can't feel the ends of my fingers, but luckily for me, drumming on classic soul is light."

Aerosmith's Joe Perry, 60
Bum knee from old stage accident

Perry had knee-replacement surgery two years ago. "Skiing and riding my motorcycle" also helped wear out the joint, the rocker says. After an infection led to a second surgery, he finally got back in the studio.

Poison's Bret Michaels, 47
Brain hemorrhage, mini-stroke, diabetes

Following the brain hemorrhage in April, Michaels spent nine days in intensive care. "I was given a second chance," he says. "There's so much more I want to do." He's now back on the road.

KISS' Paul Stanley, 58
Worn-out hips from years of stage antics

Stanley has had two hip-replacement surgeries. "If it wasn't the platform shoes, it was years of doing kicks--it just wears out your hips," he says. "Now I'm basically good for another 50,000 miles."


Drunk on Love (Basia)


Stephen Colbert on Capitol Hill

Cast of "Ruined."

Victoire Charles, Stephen Tyrone Williams, Russell G. Jones, Cherise Boothe, Carl Cofield, Portia, Tom Mardirosian, Condola Phyleia Rashad, Ron McBee, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Tongayi Chirisa, Simon Kashama, Duain Richmond, Mustafa Shakir, David St. Louis, and Mr. Academy Awards, Gill Cates.




Died 09/18/70

Dancing Across the Isle



The brothel setting of Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Ruined,” the powerful and still horrifyingly topical drama that opened Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse, is a sanctuary of sorts for the women employed there. Victims of the bloody military turmoil that has turned the Democratic Republic of Congo into a tragedy without resolution, these mothers and daughters have been so brutalized that working in this sporting house for gun-slinging warriors is preferable to scrounging in the bush or being penned up in a refugee camp

Mama Nadi (Portia) presides over her cheerfully tawdry nightclub like a cynical den mother who isn’t about to let sympathy for her staff interfere with her balance sheet. These young women have been through hell, but to her, that’s only more reason they should be grateful for the shelter and sustenance she provides.

This holds especially true for the two new girls she’s taken in at the urging of Christian (Russell G. Jones), an affable merchant who brings supplies when he can get past the teens with assault rifles demanding tolls on the main road. Salima (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) is on the plain side and understandably has a woebegone personality that isn’t likely to tease money out of the regular customers. And Sophie (a heartbreaking Condola Rashad), though brighter and prettier, is of even more limited use: She’s “ruined,” after being raped by a bayonet and left for dead.

“Look, militia did ungodly things to the child,” Christian informs Mama. The 18-year-old Sophie, his niece, has lingering physical discomfort evident in every step she takes. Bribing the crusty proprietress with Belgian chocolate, Christian gets her to begrudgingly accept his sister's only child as part of a package deal.

Fortunately, Mama takes a liking to this wounded beauty, who makes up in singing and bookkeeping what she can no longer provide in sex. And as the plot develops in a succession of hard-hitting scenes that juggle perhaps one too many storylines, Mama and Sophie are revealed to have more in common than either could comfortably admit.

Nottage’s play has been enormously successful, which is quite a feat given the grim subject matter and our ability as Americans to tune out parts of the world we would rather not think about. How does the playwright manage to get us to pay attention to what the nightly newscasts only flittingly report for fear of losing viewers? She concentrates on the women not as generalized victims but as individual survivors, with specific histories, longings, strengths and shortcomings.

“Ruined” dramatizes female resiliency. To the question of “What happened?” these women can humbly answer, "I didn’t die.” Nottage, who interviewed Congolese refugees in Uganda as part of her research, explores the camaraderie among her characters -- the curious bond between Mama and Sophie, the supportive shadowing of Sophie and Salima and their strained relationship with Josephine (Cherise Boothe), Mama’s busiest worker, who torments them like a spoiled sibling not about to concede pride of place.

Men rule here by brute force, but in the brothel, they must abide by Mama's rules and leave their bullets at the bar. Mr. Harari (Tom Mardirosian), a furtive white diamond trader who carries a whiff of the colonial exploitation that led to the current anarchic state of coups and insurrections, admires Mama’s business acumen—her ruthlessness tickles him as he laps liquor at her bar while lusting after Josephine, who would desperately like to escape with him to the city.

Gripping, suspenseful and occasionally harrowing, the play, which began as an adaptation of Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children” set in the Congo, has more lightness than one might expect. Directed by Kate Whoriskey, this co-production with Seattle’s Intiman Theatre (where Whoriskey is artistic director) has the same lively tempo that distinguished her staging at the Manhattan Theatre Club, where I first saw the play.

Taking place on a set designed by Derek McLane that lends Mama’s makeshift bar, decked with Christmas lights, a crumbling gaiety, the production features original music by Dominic Kanza that’s performed onstage by Simon Shabantu Kashama and Ron McBee. Rashad’s exquisite singing, a songbird lament revved by necessity for entertainment, is matched by explosions of Boothe's double-jointed dancing.

Many of the cast members, including Bernstine, Rashad, Boothe and Jones, originated their roles, and the long history is apparent in the depth and ease of their acting. Portia, who took over the part of Mama during the extended New York run, doesn’t have quite the same guttural ferocity as Saidah Arrika Ekulona, whose performance at MTC was every bit as searing as Rashad’s. Portia has a gentler, more conciliatory presence, and her tyrannical flourishes can thus seem like affectations. The jagged contradictions of the character are softened, but on the plus side, the actress generates great sympathy as Mama’s story is reluctantly drawn out through Christian’s dogged devotion.

“Ruined” has been criticized for an ending that has seemed too pat and upbeat. The problem, however, isn’t that Nottage doesn’t leave us drowning in despair (there’s more than enough to go around), but that the plot resolves itself on a note of conventional romance overcoming the impossible. You can hear the Broadway crybabies, myself among them, sniffling on cue.

Nottage has clearly made a conscious artistic choice. Mama has no patience for the romantic novels her workers adore, but her heart isn’t dead, just long buried in the business of survival. Yet what moved me most about “Ruined” were the quieter displays of stamina among the women, those moments that didn't need to plead for our tears. Chief among these is the light that miraculously continues to flicker in Sophie's eyes even after so much darkness.

Charles McNulty

The NewYorker


I Will Be Great



From left: Portia, Quincy Tyler Bernstine, Condola Rashad and Cherise Boothe appear in "Ruined."

A sense of caring unites actresses in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-winning play about women brutalized during a civil war.
By Karen Wada, Special to the Los Angeles Times
September 14, 2010

Meet the women of "Ruined": Josephine, the haughty chief's daughter. Salima, the simple farmer's wife. Sophie, the beautiful student.

Each was brutalized during the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and all are fighting for survival at a mining-town bar and brothel run by Mama Nadi in Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer-prize winning drama.

A bleak tale, yes, but "Ruined," which opens Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse, is infused with humanity and humor and buoyed by the rich relationships among the actresses who bring it to life: Quincy Tyler Bernstine (Salima), Cherise Boothe (Josephine), Portia (Mama) and Condola Rashad (Sophie). They have devoted much of the past two years to these characters and, by extension, women living in Congo. They consider the work important, rewarding — and very difficult.

They could only have done it for as long as they have, they say, by doing it together.

"There have been times when each of us has hit a wall or found ourselves vulnerable, fragile due to the subject matter and the number of performances," says Portia. "And without saying a word we have been there for one another."

Nottage calls this "perhaps the most incredible group of women I've ever worked with. They take care of each other emotionally, spiritually and artistically."

That sense of caring and camaraderie filled the room one recent afternoon when the actresses gathered at the Geffen to talk about their long journey with "Ruined."

Bernstine, Boothe and Rashad were among the original dozen cast members when the show opened in November 2008 at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago in a world-premiere co-production with off-Broadway's Manhattan Theatre Club. Portia arrived after the MTC opening in early 2009, succeeding Saidah Arrika Ekulona. The cast that will be seen at the Geffen all played Seattle's Intiman Theatre this summer as part of an Intiman-Geffen co-production.

The earlier versions of "Ruined," directed by Kate Whoriskey, earned critical acclaim, extended runs and honors including Obies for Bernstine, Ekulona and Russell G. Jones, who portrays Christian, a traveling salesman and Mama's long-suffering suitor.

The play has raised awareness about the wartime abuses suffered by Congolese women.

"Doing the research, I had to read a little and then put it down," says Bernstine. "I lost a lot of sleep. I think we all did."

Rashad remembers being overwhelmed by both the material and the idea of appearing in such a major show right out of school. Bernstine, Boothe and Portia were stage veterans, but Rashad – the daughter of actress Phylicia Rashad and sportscaster Ahmad Rashad — had just graduated from California Institute of the Arts.

The other actors immediately made her feel welcome, she says. She, in turn, helped welcome Portia in New York. "By then we could recite everyone's lines and knew all the props and cues. So if it looked like she wasn't sure of something we were there for her."

"If it were any other company I wouldn't have had such an easy transition," Portia says, crediting the cast and Whoriskey with giving her the confidence and freedom to make Mama her own while allowing her to become part of "this incredible machine."

She turns to the others. "Now I have a question. How did it really feel to have someone new come in?"

"It was a delight," Boothe replies. "We had been doing the play for so long it was wonderful to have your complex, dynamic, fun, silly energy."

"Portia also brings love," adds Bernstine. "With what we go through onstage it's important to have genuine support and love."

The women say it took awhile to get inside characters whose circumstances and personalities were so different from theirs. With Josephine, says Boothe, "I had to find a way to not judge her for how she went about surviving and how she treated the other women." Josephine flaunts her sexuality. "I consider myself shyer. It was terrifying to take that on." She overcame her fears in part by confiding in another actress. "She said, 'It's OK. I'm watching you. I've got you.' "

For the actresses, one key is remembering that Mama and her girls give one another support and love — in their own fashion — which help them endure seemingly unbearable troubles and even find hope and a little joy. They note that Nottage based her play on the experiences of refugees she met in Africa and intends her characters to be not tragic victims but complex, real people who embody fragility and resilience, pain and pride. For them, life not only can but will go on.

Over time, the women and the eight men in the company have developed such strong relationships with one another that they and Whoriskey have felt free to push the dramatic intensity of certain scenes, including ones in which Mama and her girls are terrorized by the arrogant commanders and thuggish soldiers who frequent the bar.

"You can take things farther," says Rashad. "Sometimes, I've taken a scene super far because I know that offstage this actor is my brother."

Given the nature of the play, says Boothe, "We're very lucky to have the group of men we do. We are always checking in with each other. Being sensitive and safe."

The heightened intensity plus the Geffen's size — it's the most intimate space the cast has appeared in — promises to make the performances here what the actresses jokingly call "Ruined Extra Extra Strength."

Lest that idea scare anyone already worrying this might be a very grim evening, they want to set the record straight. "This is really a love story," they insist. A lot of beautiful — if bittersweet — love stories about romance, friendship and the meaning of family.

For this cast, "Ruined" will come to an end after L.A. — at least for now. Whatever happens next, says Portia, looking around the room, "these are my girls and they always will be."

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Robert Schimmel 1950-2010


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