|Akosua Busia and Lupita Nyong’o in ECLIPSED Off-Broadway at The Public Theater. Photo: Joan Marcus|
History Made as Women Help Each Other Through the Horrors of War
By Lauren Yarger
While Eclipsed, a gripping story of women helping each other through the horrors of war, gives us a glimpse into situations thankfully most of us in the audience never have had to face, interestingly, it also brings to light the fact that women in the United States still have a way to go to achieve equality.
The play, written by Danai Gurira (whom fans of TV’s “The Walking Dead” will know as Michonne), marks the first time in Broadway history that a play has an all-female creative team (that’s writer Gurira and director Liesl Tommy) and an all female cast (all African-Americans as well – also a first).
Think about it. It’s 2016 and that is the first time that has happened? I am glad it has happened, but when you realize that Gurira and Tommy are quite in the minority if you run through writer and director credits on Broadway stages (or any theater stage for that matter), you realize we still have a road ahead before achieving parity. It’s sobering. And this Broadway transfer from a sold-out run at Off-Broadway’s Public Theatre probably wouldn’t have happened without the casting of a star -- Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for her supporting role in “12 Years a Slave.”
Nyong’o is known only as The Girl – the fourth woman taken by a warlord in Liberia. She and the other “wives” are known only by their number – indicating the order in which they were taken. Wife #1 (Saycon Sengbloh) is a sort of mother figure to the other girls. She tries to keep peace between #3 (Pascale Armand) , a young, immature girl who has become the sexual favorite of her captor and who finds herself with an unwanted child growing inside her, and #2 (Zainab Jah), who has gained a bit of independence by becoming a machine gun-wielding soldier herself.
When the other women are unable to keep The Girl hidden from their master/husband, he has his way with her. Once she becomes a wife, she joins in the life and rituals of their hut-like dwelling, where they sleep on the floor (Set Design by Clint Ramos, who also designs the costumes). When the Commanding Officer beckons, the docile women line up for selection,. Then the one he has picked goes off stage to do his will, returning shortly to wipe herself clean with a rag kept in a shared shallow basin full of water and their blood. The matter-of-fact way this happens is chilling.
In between sexual duties, the women help each other and sit enraptured as The Girl reads to them from a book about President Bill Clinton (his escapades with Monica Lewinsky -- whom the women assume is his Wife #2 -- and the country’s rather easy acceptance of that behavior are another reminder that women in the United States still have a way go to be treated as equals). They fight over cast off clothes brought to them by wife #2, who tries to recruit The Girl as a soldier, convincing her that the only real power comes through having a gun in your hand.
Trying to counter the horrible situation is Rita (Akosua Busia), who is seeking peace and an end to the civil wars that have torn her country apart. She visits the rebel camp and urges the women to try to remember who they are and the name their mothers gave to them. The truth is that most of them can’t even remember their mothers, never mind a time when they thought of themselves as a person.
Gurira’s play, which she wrote after traveling to Africa and interviewing actual war survivors, is deeply disturbing, but not enough some how. The women seem too complacent, too not shattered by their circumstances – even The Girl who is new to it. We feel outraged, but they don’t seem to – and perhaps that’s part of the purpose of the story – to show how dehumanizing the plight of the women is. We don’t experience enough of their journey, however, to comprehend it, though music and sounds by Broken Chord Collective help enhance the atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the show has launched a far-reaching campaign to bring young women to the show The “10,000 Girls Campaign,” will distribute tickets to girls from the Tri-State area between ages 16 to 24 who would not otherwise have the opportunity to experience a Broadway show.
The National Urban League is a sponsor with Front Row Productions. Individuals and organizations may make a tax- eductible donation through the Broadway Education Alliance by visiting https://npo.justgive.org/BroadwayEducationAlliance. For more information visit www.tenthousandgirls.com.
Eclipsed plays through June 19 at the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th St., NYC. Performances are Tickets are $59.50 - $99.50: http://eclipsedbroadway.com; 212- 239-6200.
Hair,Wig and Makeup Design by Cookie Jordan; Lighting Design by Jennifer Schriever
-- Mature Themes
Full Disclosure: Good friend Pat Addiss is a producer of the show. This doesn't influence what I write, but I like to be up front about these things.