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The Ruins of Civilization

From 14 critic and 57 member reviews
Members say: Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Slow, Great acting, Intelligent

About the show

Manhattan Theatre Club presents the world premiere of Penelope Skinner's exploration of our need for free will and connection, even in a world on the brink of extinction. More…

Sometime in the future, spouses Dolores and Silver (TV star Tim Daly) are living their lives within the constraints of a new world order. In an act of what seems like generosity, Dolores secretly opens their home to a stranger in need, but will she come to regret it? Can her actions have an impact or is it just too late?

On Stage Blog

"This sci-fi dystopia will make your heart skip a beat quite a few times because of the close resemblance to today’s world issues and the remarkable gracefulness with which it is executed…Beautifully written...By setting the play in the future, Skinner not only emphasizes the universal relevance of the issue but also removes the immediate pain and anger...Every turn of the head, every move around the room is meaningful and yet doesn’t look forced." Full Review

The New York Times

"The production sometimes shows the strain of its densely packed thematic weight...The cast only rarely engages us emotionally. Still, for a doomsday play, 'Ruins' is remarkably pleasurable: well paced, well spoken and very deft in planting slyly placed clues as to what the future will be…Much of the pleasure — and horror — of 'Ruins' is in gradually spotting the subtle ways life has changed, and how much it feels like a natural extension of the way we live now." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

"Skinner’s feminist concerns are complicated and unapologetic. She is interested in the limits that society puts on women and to what extent women internalize these constraints...'Ruins' has its missteps. Some of the dialogue is less than persuasive, there is an occasional whiff of formula...But as the play progresses, Skinner’s future world becomes increasingly complete and cogent, its terrors revealed with deceptively placid care." Full Review


"It's a slow grind through Act 1 as Skinner lays all of this groundwork, but it eventually builds to a compelling story…There are moments when Mara feels more like a social-justice thought experiment than a character in her own right. However, Skinner finds the ideal balance between the two in an 11 o'clock confrontation between the foreign protagonist and Silver. Real life rarely affords such an eloquent face-off between the castes — and this one is particularly satisfying." Full Review


"Daly adopts a British accent and does impressive work as a persnickety unpublished writer possessing an undercurrent of sensitivity...I also was impressed with Hope’s Mara, who arrives with a dramatic story that in lesser hands might leave us to suspect ulterior motives...Gardiner directs the efficient drama...All four characters seem like real people, trying to balance a sense of humanity with the human need to both adapt to circumstances--and look out for ourselves. " Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"Through seemingly offhand remarks, Skinner builds a chilling picture of a society that is plausible enough to make one uncomfortable. The actors were fine except for an occasional stumble over accents...Some aspects of the plot do not stand up to close examination, the emotional temperature could use a boost and the first act could use a trim. Nevertheless, the play held my interest and raised issues that merit our attention." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

“Skinner has a fine ear for such Orwellian turns of phrase. Under Leah C. Gardiner’s Pinteresque direction, her dialogue can sound stilted...Her play loses its way, however, after the interval, when the plot becomes reliant on several psychologically far-fetched twists, prompted by the arrival of an immigrant...Roxanna Hope plays the part convincingly, but Skinner doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with the character.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“‘Ruins’ is never exactly subtle, but it is effective when it's underplaying its hand...Skinner, alas, doesn't avoid that much beyond intermission...and ‘Ruins’ drowns in boring, preachy pathos...The shift in tone is jarring, in part because the characters transform instantaneously, not because they've earned their evolution...Seeing how all these people deal with that unflinching reality from their unique perspectives is original and, in its way, gripping." Full Review


“Climate change, privilege, women having control of their bodies and putting up walls, British playwright Penelope Skinner bundles them all together...After her intriguing ‘The Village Bike’ two years ago, ‘The Ruins of Civilization’ seems a letdown, as the dystopian plot plays all too familiarly. Director Leah C. Gardiner's staging is efficient and the ensemble company is fine, but the meandering dialogue and thinly-developed characters create little reason for empathy.” Full Review

Front Row Center

"This is a well-intentioned piece that is part 'A Doll’s House' and part 'Twilight Zone.' Ms. Skinner’s writing, however, rather than being exploratory, is confining. While the character of Mara is many layered, the other three are one-note...We get the point very early on in this play. The world is going to hell in a handbag, and the people who believe in a Solution are offstage somewhere very far away...Once this is established the play idles like an old Ford pickup." Full Review

New York Post

We need more dystopian plays but ‘Ruins’ isn’t the right one…Skinner tackles weighty topics, from the plight of refugees to government control over women’s bodies, but Margaret Atwood she is not. The show may have worked better as a dark comedy, and Tim Daly’s character gets close to that territory. As is, the production keeps you only mildly engaged where it should terrify, or at least unsettle.” Full Review


"Ms. Skinner is to be commended for dishing up a full menu of major world problems…But while 'The Ruins of Civilization' is cleverly trendy it also manages to be both overstuffed and under developed. Too many elements of Ms. Skinner's portrait of life in a ruined civilization are left frustratingly vague...The play's production values are first class…Under Gardiner's direction the grim story moves smoothly to its predictably dark conclusion." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Roxanna Hope and Orlagh Cassidy, as a bureaucrat named Joy, breathe life into side characters, but the central couple is vapidly written and the world they inhabit is thinly drawn. One can only hope for a future in which Skinner has written a second draft of the play." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"However accurately forecasters have predicted bleakness, one can only hope that the future is less boring than the one depicted in the not too subtly titled 'The Ruins of Civilization'…It's not just that the play's themes feel so distressingly familiar. It's that they're also rendered in tedious, meandering fashion, with a vagueness that's more frustrating than intriguing...Gardiner's listless staging does little to elevate the energy level of the proceedings." Full Review

Clever, Anti-capitalist, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Bleak

See it if You like a story that criticizes its target audience. The show is more about its message than the plot and characters.

Don't see it if You see plays for just the plot or don't like being criticized by the playwright or are in love with capitalism. Characters are unlovable.

Absorbing, Funny, Entertaining, Great acting, Great writing

See it if you enjoy really good, different, funny shows.

Don't see it if you don't like very small theaters.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if You're a Tim Daly fan & into futuristic dramas with tension. You like checking out modern technology (& the Carousel of Progress at Disney).

Don't see it if You don't like science fiction or drama. You are uncomfortable with intense characters.

Absorbing, Clever, Entertaining, Intelligent

See it if ever wonder where we are going on this planet. also how a black box site makes theater so much more

Don't see it if if you do not want to put your mind to work asking What is next? and What can we do?

Absorbing, Intelligent, Thought-provoking

See it if you are up for a well acted futuristic play that superficially raises a variety of interesting moral, social and other issues.

Don't see it if It would upset you too much to watch the patronizing husband in the play treat his wife like a child.

Intense, Thought-provoking, Masterful

See it if you are looking for a thought-provoking and a great conversational topic.

Don't see it if there is really no reason not to see this show.

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great writing, Absorbing, Upsetting

See it if you want to see a thought-provoking drama tackling super-timely topics in a resonant way while also creating compelling characters.

Don't see it if you want to feel good about the future.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Resonant, Thought-provoking

See it if u want "It's the end of the world as we know it & I feel fine!" bc the state incentivizes the end of empathy & it's easier to look away...

Don't see it if u want really bleak dystopian fare a la Haneke's "Time of the Wolf." It's disquieting in that it's "civilized" society that ruins us all.

Original, Absorbing, Intelligent, Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if you enjoy new original work, a futuristic thriller, and a great cast.

Don't see it if are looking for something light, fun or fluffy.

Ambitious, Absorbing, Confusing, Quirky, Thought-provoking

See it if you like Margaret Atwood futuristic style, feminist focused stories, gradually making important discoveries, foreboding atmosphere

Don't see it if you must have everything explained immediately, cannot imagine future worlds, don't get male privilege

Original, Clever, Entertaining

See it if you would like a futuristic story with serious subtexts about current issues like priviledge/poor, gov control, immigants, population, etc.

Don't see it if you like straight forward stories or do not care for futuristic settings or serious issues in your plays.

Resonant, Thought-provoking, Great writing

See it if If you like dystopian tales. Reminded my of A Brave New World, 1984, and We. Enjoyed the performances of all the actors.

Don't see it if Your looking for a fun show without a morality lesson.

Absorbing, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if discussions of morality, ethics, individual responsibility,

Don't see it if dislike above

Absorbing, Entertaining, Intelligent, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if You like thought provoking shows, and are happy seeing smaller shows.

Don't see it if You're looking for fluff, or a fun musical night at the theater.

Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great acting

See it if You are interested in the choices we make and how that impacts others - in a small venue so you can get drawn into the characters.

Don't see it if You want everything tied up neatly at the end/all your questions answered or an uplifting story

Ambitious, Confusing, Edgy, Quirky, Thought-provoking

See it if You enjoy apocalyptic settings in a vague future that touches on climate change, immigration ,mental illness. It challenges, makes you think

Don't see it if Like precise story telling that lays out the playwright's vision or if you don't like to think.

Confusing, Great acting, Intense

See it if Post apocalyptic play where people in London are awaiting their end and not allowed to procreate. Good concept and acting.

Don't see it if Sometimes, it's hard to enjoy and grasp a lot of the scenes. Profound and confusing.

Great acting, Great staging, Edgy, Quirky, Thought-provoking

See it if You love Tim Daly, and plays about the future. Like to let your imagination run wild and enjoy sci-fi. great acting

Don't see it if You are like me and do not follow futuristic plots easily. Do not have a best friend who can explain what happened to you. Get befuddled

Absorbing, Original, Resonant, Intense, Intelligent

See it if Compelling drama. Tense, edge of your seat performances. Relevant topic. Kept my interest all the way through. Emotional.

Don't see it if A little heavy-handed at times. Tim Daly could use a dialect coach.

Civilized, Rueful, Intelligent, Resonant, Uninvolving

See it if dystopian tales that highlight how we live now entice you. This is a tight, persuasive production. Well-acted, especially by Rachael Holmes.

Don't see it if you'll be disappointed that, despite the futuristic premise, it's a domestic play on denial&selfishness. Ruin comes from civilized behavior.

Interesting dystopian tale about how society deals with time when global warming is irreversible; captures the banality of extinction

See it if you enjoy political morality tale cast as domestic conflict between those numbly acting "civilized" vs. going mad; fine cast/Tim Daly

Don't see it if you never feel terror/urgency of world coming to end, characters are largely stand-ins for political positions, ending is predictable

Predictable, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great acting

See it if you're interested in futurist plays which offer subtext on the current human experience and where humanity could be headed

Don't see it if you don't like plot twists, especially those which are heavily foreshadowed and you can predict well in advance.

Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if you enjoy science fiction - the world to come

Don't see it if expect to be engrossed by the world to come

Disappointing, Ambitious

See it if you're in the area of 55th and have an interest in seeing a doomsday play. Has interesting moments and a twist or 2 you may not see coming.

Don't see it if you're looking for something with a bit more heft and not into futuristic predictive plots.

Ambitious, Intense, Slow

See it if sex trafficking, global warming, refugee crises and other current world pandemics suggest a dystopian future for us. Big topics, not new.

Don't see it if none of those things 'touch' your life or you really don't care about them, or would rather not think about them when you watch theatre

Cast & Creatives (11)