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Eclipsed: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Humanitarian crises like the recent Liberian Civil War involve erasure on a scale that’s hard to imagine, much less depict onstage. The four woman at the core of Danai Gurira’s urgently powerful Eclipsed no longer even have their own names. Forced into sexual and domestic slavery to a rebel leader they call the C.O.—the perpetrators of violence lose their humanity too—these young women refer to themselves by their rank as his “wives.” Wife #1 (Saycon Sengbloh) is the oldest and most nurturing; Wife #3 (Pascale Armand) is bubbly, simple and pregnant. In a bullet-ridden hovel in 2003, they try to hide the 15-year-old Girl (Lupito Nyong’o) under a plastic basin, but it’s not long before she’s brutally claimed as Wife #4. Meanwhile, the erstwhile Wife #2 (Zainab Jah) has remade herself into a ruthless soldier, determined to be the biggest bitch in a dog-eat-dog world.
Directed by Liesl Tommy, all four of the actors portraying these women are superb; Nyong’o is as radiant as one would expect from this rising star, but the others shine as brightly. Gurira renders their plight in sometimes harrowing detail, but her focus is on the personal: their secrets and rivalries, their fears and guilt. (Mercifully, the play is often funny; one running joke has the women reading a biography of Bill Clinton.) The cast also includes Akosua Busia as a member of the nonviolent women’s protest movement that helped end the war; themes of sisterhood and motherhood are central. Applause seems an insufficient response to Gurira's bracing tale of war and endurance. It inspires you to extend a hand.
Public Theater (Off Broadway). By Danai Gurira. Directed by Liesl Tommy. With Lupita Nyong’o. Running time: 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.
Follow Adam Feldman on Twitter: @FeldmanAdam