Given what I heard from TOC reviewer John Beer and from theater editor Christopher Piatt, in addition to other friends who saw the Goodman production of Ruined, it sounded like a good but not great play. And considering that the Goodman had stashed Lynn Nottage’s new play on its second stage (as did Manhattan Theatre Club in its subsequent run), it didn’t feel like anyone here was considering Ruined a major new work.
Moreover, Ruined sounded like the kind of do-gooding play that makes itself inherently, and annoyingly, criticism-proof. Stories about the play itself get hopelessly conflated with stories about the play's subjects, or the playwright's process and intentions. I find that plays like Ruined (or The Ballad of Emmett Till, or Black Diamond, or Lost Boys of Sudan or The Laramie Project) lodge a nagging worry in the back of my mind that if I say anything less than glowing about what's on stage, it could be read as a dismissal of the real-life suffering that inspired it.
Was I wrong to take a pass on Ruined? Unless the play takes on a robust enough life to be remounted by another company in Chicago, I may never know. What I do know is this: its run at the Goodman, from mid-November to mid-December, fell during the weeks when I'm normally scrambling to catch up with the year-end plays that my fellow TOC writers think might be contenders for our top ten list. Ruined never came up in that conversation.
AT TOC: Nine new reviews today, including Sketchbook and Cut to the Quick, five stars for ATC's Hedwig and two for the touring A Chorus Line.