Bluegrass Community and Technical College theater director Tim X Davis was watching a production of Lynn Nottage's Ruined at last year's American College Theater Festival, and he knew exactly what the students who were with him were thinking.
"I leaned over halfway through the first act and said, 'We're doing this next year,' and they were like, 'Yeah!'" Davis says. "I was just blown away by the script."
So was the Pulitzer Prize committee, which awarded Ruined its 2009 prize for drama. Inspired by Bertolt Brecht's 1930s anti-war drama Mother Courage and Her Children, the play is set in a brothel in civil war-torn Congo. Proprietor Mama Nadi tries to maintain order and civility, including ordering all guests to leave their ammo at the door, but the war keeps coming through the door, be it in the form of contentious soldiers or prostitutes who have suffered atrocities at the hands of allies and enemies alike.
For Davis, it's a return to a familiar author: His directing debut in Lexington was Nottage's Crumbs From the Table of Joy at Actors Guild of Lexington in 2002. But Ruined has turned out to be an introduction to a new theater space for him and for Lexington in general.
Ruined will be the first production by an outside group at the new theater at Sts. Peter and Paul School on Short Street. The 250-seat venue was part of an $11 million renovation and expansion of the school's nearly 100-year-old building during the past few years. The theater is primarily for the school's theater program, directed by Lexington actress Laurie Preston, but it also was intended to be available for public use in community outreach, similar to the school's new gym.
When Davis found himself in a pinch for a venue for Ruined, he called Preston, with whom he has worked on several productions, to inquire about using the space.
One of his concerns was the content of the play, which includes harsh profanity and graphic descriptions of sexual violence. The title refers to one character who was so brutally raped by soldiers that she was no longer able to have sex.
"I thought, this is a Catholic school and a religious institution," Davis says. "But their attitude was like, 'As long as it's something not specifically targeted at our young students, we feel like it's perfectly fine. It's an important story that should be told.'"
At a technical rehearsal Tuesday night, participants in the production gave the new space high marks.
"For an elementary school to have a facility like this is fantastic," said guest scenic and lighting designer Carrie Ferguson-Bellew, who is visiting from New Albany, Ind. "It's a small space, but any space for theater is great."
Dmetrius Conley, a Lexington native with international theater experience who is playing the small role of Cmdr. Osembenga, says the smallness works for the play.
"There isn't a bad seat in the house," he said. "And with this show, you want to feel close to it. That gives this script greater impact."
For Davis and the BCTC crew, the new theater has had a good impact: "You'll definitely see us here again."