By Sandi Durell
The dictionary meaning of Eclipse(d) is to deprive (someone or something) of significance, power, or prominence. When four of the five women in Danai Gurira’s heart-wrenching drama are named Wife 1 thru 4, no longer remembering what their mommas named them or where they come from, they are stripped bare of identity and completely dehumanized. They are the sad sacrifices of the horrors and inhumanities of the Second Liberian Civil War, living under the control of a rebel warlord, a C.O., battling to overthrow Charles Taylor’s dictatorship beginning in the 1990s.
This strong ensemble of women, magnificently directed by Liesl Tommy, are ranked in a hierarchy to provide sex, food and do laundry for their C.O. (never seen), featuring Lupita Nyong’o (Oscar winner, 12 Years a Slave) reprising her role as The Girl, a 15 year old virgin and the youngest living in the bullet-ridden cinderblock hovel where Saycon Sengbloh (Holler If Ya Hear Me, Motown, Fela), is the fair yet no-nonsense, in charge, Wife #1, considered old at the age of 25, attempting to protect The Girl by keeping her hidden underneath a washtub from being jumped on. Maima (ebullient Zainab Jah), as Wife #2 no longer living with them, has taken her freedom by joining the rebel army, proudly carrying her rifle, clothed in American-style tight bling jeans and sexy tops. Wife #3 is the pregnant child-like Bessie (a delicious Pascale Armand – The Trip to Bountiful) – a baby about to have a baby.
When The Girl wanders out one night to relieve herself, she is raped by the C.O. and returns without a word spoken.
The women somehow endure the atrocities of war, their daily lives peppered with humor as they fight for the spoils brought to them by the C.O. – some pieces of clothing, a book – all judiciously handed out by Wife #1, and when it is discovered that The Girl has some ability to read, and does from a biography about Bill Clinton, great laughter ensues as Wife #3 asks “So who Monica now?, Wife #1 replying “She #2, no?
Nyong’o, as the honest, heartbreaking Girl, can no longer endure being jumped on as the now favorite of the C.O., and is easily recruited by the terrifying Maima to join the rebel forces where she will no longer be held captive. As she is indoctrinated by Maima to kill the monkey (the enemy), we watch The Girl morph into a chilling soldier of war, stripped of all empathy. The telltale sexy clothing worn by Maima is an opposing tipoff that this little soldier still needs and wants to attract male lovers and does so for protection and on her own terms.
Clearly visible are the activists in the form of Rita (Akosua Busia) a delegate of the women’s peace movement, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, who attempts to and does begin a process of educating these lost souls by making them acknowledge and remember their names.
The great contradiction is that the rebels all commit the same atrocities as Taylor’s army; rounding up children as sex slaves, stealing, murdering and perpetrating unbearable barbaric tortures.
The play, transferred from the Public Theater’s 2015 knockout production, pays homage to Ms. Gurira’s exceptional talent as a playwright and also the actress known as Michonne in The Walking Dead. The background African rhythms by Broken Chord, colorful palate of Jen Schriever’s lights against Clint Ramos’ scenic design and vibrant costumes all enhance the emotional roller coaster that prevails throughout this two hour and 15 minute masterpiece.
The confusion evident in Nyong’o’s final (gloriously portrayed) moment when the war ends, after carefully hearing her choices from Maima to continue fighting and killing and Rita, to find her family and embark upon a peaceful existence, bring forth the resolve that, whatever the choice, women must and can choose their destiny. Eclipsed is a powerful send up to all women!
Eclipsed – Golden Theatre, 252 West 45 St. – running time 2 hrs. 15 min. (w/intermission) www.Eclipsedbroadway.com
Photos: Joan Marcus