By Danai Gurira
Directed by Hallie Gordon
At Northlight Theatre, Skokie
Sad effects of civil war on women deftly displayed in Eclipsed
Peopled by a cast of local Chicago female African-American actors, Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed unfolds as a poignant look at the lasting effects of civil war on the female prisoners forced to be ‘wives’ of a rebel commander in the Liberian civil war. Playwright Danai Gurira presents a portrait of the role of women both in modern Liberian society and in a rebel army camp. These women are sexual and housekeeping servants who must succumb to the every whim of ‘their man.’
We meet the commander’s wives: Wife # 1: Helena ( steady work by Alena Arenas) is the ‘chief’ wife in charge of the household. She is the ‘old wife’ having been with the commander for near 8 years yet she is only 25 years old! There is Wife # 3: the 19 year old Bessie (Leslie Ann Shepard) who love wigs and is with child. She is a precocious teen rules by pure emotion. The new wife, #4 The Girl (Paige Collins) is a 15 year old girl recently captured who can read making her unique. She is taken under Helena’s wing as she adjusts to life as a slave-wife.
Much of the first act is a slice-of-life glimpse into the drudgery of captivity. We grow to emphasize with these women. The visits by former Wife # 2: Rita (Tamberla Perry) shakes the status quo of the household as we meet the AK-47 carrying ‘soldier’ who has become both a rebel warrior and a liberated woman free of servitude. The jean dressed intense soldier flaunts her gun power as she tries to recruit Wife # 4 into joining her as a soldier.
The household is visited by the Women’s Peace League representative Maima (Penelope Walker) who tries to make sure the wives are treated well. She has a hidden agenda that becomes important in act two.
Eclipsed is a quietly powerful and poignant work that puts a face on the horrible role of women in a war environment. Playwright Gurira demonstrates the only viable alternative for these woman – either become sexual slave to a commander or his troops or grab an AK-47, start killing, usurping your power and control. Quite a choice. The story hinges on how The Girl struggles with her newly gained power as a soldier when a truce is declared. We see the scary future awaiting these women that includes either staying with the commander, going to a refugee camp to staying a soldier. We hope the woman will make the right decisions for themselves.
Eclipsed is a quietly moving play filled with rich African accents that demonstrates the resilience and strength of the human spirit. Alena Arenas and Penelope Walker lead a worthy cast.
At Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie, Skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.northlight.org, tickets $30 – $50, Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2;30 & 7 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through February 20, 2011