Stage debut in ‘Ruined’ an awakening for D.C. actress
By Emily Wax,
Jamairais Malone, 23, of Columbia Heights is making her stage debut as Josephine, a hardened prostitute working at Mama Nadi’s pool hall in Congo, a country where rape is routinely used as a weapon of war. Playwright Lynn Nottage collected stories from Congolese female refugees who were “ruined,” women who had experienced great physical and emotional trauma after repeated rapes. Nottage’s play, “Ruined,” won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2009 and is running at Arena Stage through June 5. Malone talks about the play and the attention she hopes it will bring to the plight of Congo’s women.
“So I play a whore. I dance a lot on the top of the pool table. For this photo shoot, I will do anything. But I won’t go behind the bar. That’s Mama Nadi’s domain.
“I won’t put my leg over my head either, because I don’t have any Spanxs on.
“I am a D.C. girl, born and bred. We grew up in Northeast D.C. by Minnesota Avenue. My father and me and my two brothers all went to high school at Duke Ellington School of the Arts. I went to Rutgers University and earned a BFA in theater arts.
“In 2009, I was in New York and saw ‘Ruined’ at the Manhattan Theater Club.
“I was floored by the show. I didn’t know anything going on in the Congo. I was upset at my own ignorance.
“I left the theater and said to my friend that we had to get people at Rutgers to see this show. Not just because it was a great show, but because we wanted people to know about what was happening to women in the Congo.
“We decided to write a one-act play called ‘The Congo Project.’ I submerged myself in articles on the Congo. We wrote about an American medical student who goes over there to help and meets a Congolese girl. We include media interviews with soldiers who committed the rapes.
“Women there would talk about rape the way we talk about buying milk. We held the play for three nights. We didn’t charge, and we asked only for donations. We ended up raising $800 and sending it to Women for Women International.
“After I graduated, I wanted to save money for one year. So I was working in marketing. I was in a cubicle going crazy.
“I heard there was a casting call in New York [for Arena’s production of ‘Ruined’].
“After the audition, I was just sitting down on the Megabus. And then I get a call from the play asking if I am still in New York. I asked the caller to hold on. I covered the phone. I start yelling, ‘Please, bus driver, please STOP THE BUS! STOP THE BUS!’ I got off and zoomed back up to the audition.
“But I got the part! I was like, ‘I’m getting out of my cubicle.’ I am a YouTube freak and watched videos of a Congolese band which includes about 12 women dancing. I wanted to find the body, the mannerisms. I’m 5-11. I’m wearing four-inch heals. I get my hair braided every three weeks for the play by these Senegalese women in PG Plaza. They asked me why I was so particular about how it was done. I told them about the play. They asked, ‘Do the Americans care? People come hear about this?’ ’’ That really touched me. I want to bring them to the play.
“Sometimes we have breakdowns backstage. There are many times when I am doing the play and I think while I am on stage doing this acting, women are being raped over there.”
By Lynn Nottage. Directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. Original music and sound,
Lindsay Jones; music coordinator, Mongezi Chris Ntaka; fight director, Robb Hunter; dialect coach, Kim James Bey. With Lawrence Redmond, Daniel Ssuuna, David Foreman, Waldo Robertson, Psalmayene 24, Clifton Duncan, Babs Olusanmokun, JaBen A. Early, James J. Johnson. About 2 ½ hours. Through June 5 at Arena Stage, 1011 Sixth St. SW. Visit www.arenastage.org or call 202-488-3300.