The North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival’s presentation of Eclipsed, written by Danai J. Gurira and directed by Michele Okoh, tells the dramatic story of five Liberian women who are struggling for survival during their country’s second civil war. It’s an eye-opening glimpse into a world few Americans can fathom.
Ripped from their families, or captured and held prisoner by commanders of warring factions, Liberian women are raped, tortured, or killed by rival groups vying to take control of the government. Innocent women are grabbed from their homes and forced into bondage. Some become the wives of the commander — chattel, really, called Wife 2, or Wife 3, with no ability to leave the rebel compound in which they are held.
When the lights come up, we see three of these women in a simple frame hut. We learn that two of them are the wives of a commander. One is in hiding. Although we never see the commander, his presence looms large over the women’s lives; and when he makes his presence known, the women are quick to do the commander’s bidding.
They make his food, bring water from the river in buckets, wash his clothes, go to his bed. What we realize is that each woman has been brought to this hut involuntarily. Wife 1 (Zora Umeadi) is the oldest and was captured many years ago. Wife 2 (Diatra Langford) escaped and joined the rebels. Wife 3 (Daphne Trevathan) is great with child.
The Girl (Amani Mckenzie), hiding in their midst (and destined to be Wife 4, once the inevitable discovery occurs), was a member of a group of schoolgirls kidnapped from their school. They don’t use their real names, because to do so seems so personal somehow … the last vestige of a life long gone.
When Wife 2 comes to visit, all tough and with an Uzi slung confidently over her shoulder, we realize that her life is different. She is herself a rebel. She has some power and control, and she hopes to recruit Wife 4 to come with her. Should she go? Or should they all listen to Rita (Emelia “Me-Me” Cowans-Taylor), a relief worker who promises them a life of freedom and school.
Since the women are all trapped in the compound, with little contact with the outside world, they hardly know about the world outside. They can hardly envision life without war.
However, it is not all bleak. Although these women are in forced servitude, they have moments of fellowship with one another. They find a book and the youngest reads to the others to pass the time. They have a beat-up radio that they use to find music, to dance, and to get sporadic news.
The show is in a terrific new art space in Durham — The Fruit (Durham Fruit & Produce Co.), an old warehouse with a rough, industrial vibe, perfect for the telling of this gritty story. Props go to scenic designer Alec Haklar for a terrific bare-bones set that hinted at walls, and with enough props to give the audience the flavor for these women’s hard lives. Props also to Amani Mckenzie for costumes that felt authentic as well.
The show left us wanting to know more about the country and its war-torn history. How was America involved with the formation of the country? Why hasn’t our government intervened to stop the violence?
What can we do to empower the women who are the faceless victims of the war? What about the children? Isn’t there a moral imperative that we are quietly ignoring?
We felt slightly embarrassed that even in their terrible circumstances, in the midst of decades of civil strife, they knew something about America. Shouldn’t we do the same?
If you are willing to meet these strong women and hear their tales, you will think about them for days to come.
SECOND OPINION: July 28th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Jackson Cooper: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9067; July 25th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/eclipsed/Event?oid=16265682; July 18th Durham, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW Interview with director Michele-Okoh, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-Womens-Theatre-Festivals-ECLIPSED-Director-Michele-Okoh-Looks-Forward-to-Durham-Regional-Premiere-20180718; and July 7th Raleigh, NC News & Observer mini-preview by Roy C. Dicks: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article214205869.html.
The North Carolina Women’s Theatre Festival presents ECLIPSED at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 2-4 and 2 p.m. Aug. 5 at The Fruit (Durham Fruit & Produce Co.), 305 S. Dillard St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $17 in advance and $20 at the door, except $10 for students aged 22 and younger.
BOX OFFICE: 800-838-3006 or https://eclipsedwtf.brownpapertickets.com/.
INFORMATION: 980-458-2551 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
VENUE: http://www.durhamfruit.com/, https://www.facebook.com/305sdillardst/, and https://twitter.com/durhamfruit, and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPMaKqpy0ZLWi_yXODprZGQ. BLOG: http://www.durhamfruit.com/blog.
NOTE 1: This play is recommended for ages 15 and up.
NOTE 2: Ruka Osoba will play the role of Maima during the Friday, August 3rd, performance.
Eclipsed (2015 Off-Broadway and 2016 Broadway drama): https://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=4190 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/6043 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/eclipsed-503176 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eclipsed_(play) (Wikipedia). The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Danai J. Gurira (Zimbabwean-American playwright): https://www.almasiarts.org/our-team/ (Almasi Arts, Inc. bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/34731 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/danai-gurira-483099 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1775091/ (Internet Movie Database), https://twitter.com/DanaiGurira (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danai_Gurira (Wikipedia).
Michele Okoh (Wilson, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/michele.okoh (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.