A few weeks ago, Womaniala Gerald, who works with African refugees, called family after family on his list of clients, rounding up women and men to hit the road from City Heights for an evening in La Jolla. As is occasionally the case when wrangling refugee parents with kids at home, the effort wasn’t seamless. The bus got to La Jolla after the characters had already begun to perform the play Ruined, La Jolla Playhouse’s current offering.
“Of course we were late,” Gerald — the name he goes by — told me wryly.
But the group of 24 refugees who’ve lived most of their years in the Congo, Uganda and Liberia, made it to the theater and only missed about the first 20 minutes. And they loved the play, Gerald said, rushing back to their seats a few minutes into the intermission so they wouldn’t miss anything more.
“Everyone was grateful,” he said. “They immediately realized that what they were seeing was their actual experience.”
The play won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2009. It centers around a brothel in the Congo and tells the story of Congolese women ravaged by war. Themes of tribal violence, confusion between government and rebels and the horrendous sexual violence against women feature heavily in the story.
Many of Gerald’s clients were born into similar circumstances, he said.