“The wonder of Danai Gurira’s new play is that Eclipsed is neither depressingly bleak nor oppressively sober. It’s A SURPRISINGLY VIVACIOUS PORTRAIT of helplessness, of the entirely human impulse to adapt…conveyed with a lovely authority, at times even a whimsicality. [In this] authentic- feeling production, her tight-knit kinship with these characters comes across as if she shared the stage with them.” ~ The Washington Post
Eclipsed by Danai Gurira, the award-winning Zimbabwean American Playwright/Actress, experienced three simultaneous world premieres at Yale Repertory Theater, The Woolly Mammoth Theater in Washington DC and The Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles in 2009. The play subsequently won The Charles McArthur Award for Best New Play at the 2010 Helen Hayes Awards as well as thelaunch Award for Best Production in the Connecticut Circle of Critics. It recently received 5 NAACP Theater Award nominations for the Los Angeles production at the Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre.
CAST & CREW
The Girl | Precious Mudzingwa
Number Three (Bessie) | Yandani Mlilo
Number Four (Maima) | Rutendo Chigudu
Rita Endee | Sandra Chidawanyika- Goliath
Director | Zane E. Lucas
Associate Director | Patience G Tawengwa
Set Design | Lynda Hyde
Production Secretary | David Bvumbe
Lighting Design | Colin Swinton
Sound Design | Tracy Garrard, Ross Brownlee- Walker
Props | David Bvumbe, Sue Mclaren
Set in 2003, Eclipsed, a full-length, 5-character play, unearths the wreckage of Liberia’s vicious civil war and celebrates women who navigate the most brutal of circumstances.The “wives” of a rebel commanding officer form a community in a hostile warzone.Their world is transformed by the arrival of two newcomers and the unceremonious return of a former “wife” turned rebel soldier. Each woman finds her own means of survival, but at what cost?
“This play is my humble attempt to give voice to women who navigate vicious terrains not of their making. To give their stories, their personhoods, their Eclipsed light a full, though fleeting chance to shine.” ~ Danai Gurira
It was an image that struck me concerning Liberian women and war: a New York Times article that had a picture of the Liberian woman rebel fighter: Black Diamond. She’s quite well known at this point, and her corps of women was feared during the Liberian war. They were members of the women’s fighting core of LURD, a rebel faction in the image. They stood there, berets cocked to one side, in jeans and fashionable slinky tops and permed hair, with AK 47s slung menacingly over one shoulder. The steely stare in each pair of eyes told a million stories and pierced the camera lens. I honestly had never seen such an image in my life: feminine, glamorous, intimidating, powerful, belligerent and African. I became completely enthralled. What stories rested behind those eyes. I knew had that moment, I had to endeavor to find out.
We always hear about African war, but we never really hear about women and how they navigate and survive a war terrain. Liberian women did more than survive. The more I researched, the more complex the experiences of female rebel fighters proved to be. It felt uncomfortable to do so, but I had to allow those complexities to exist in the characters that emerged on the page. During my trip to Liberia I was also exposed to another group of Liberian women, who did the unthinkable. You look at Liberia now and it is impossible to not see that a vicious war has taken place. There’s nowhere to hide. At the same time it is the first country in Africa to have a female president. How paradoxical, but it is not at all by accident. The lesson that Liberia teaches in that regard is very powerful. Some Liberian women, the “Peace Women,” It felt uncomfortable to do so, but I had to allow those complexities to exist in the characters that emerged on the page. During my trip to Liberia I was also exposed to another group of Liberian women, who did the unthinkable.
You look at Liberia now and it is impossible to not see that a vicious war has taken place. There’s nowhere to hide. At the same time it is the first country in Africa to have a female president. How paradoxical, but it is not at all by accident. The lesson that Liberia teaches in that regard is very powerful. Some Liberian women, the “Peace Women,” stood up and navigated their country to peace and stability, at complete risk to their lives.Through courageous, ingenious and selfless means they ended a senseless, vicious conflict. All the female leadership there today is the direct manifestation of how they brought consciousness and peace to their country. It’s their labor’s fruit. The names of the characters in the play, Helena, Maima, Rita, Bessie, those are real names of women I met and got to know. I met Etweda Cooper, the head of the Liberian Women’s Initiative, and another phenomenal Liberian woman. Learning about her navigation through the war zone, her heroic work with many other women fighting for peace and “genderizing” the treaty agendas, made some instantaneous alterations to my dramatic narrative. I was moved by her, inspired by her and changed by her, and we found an almost immediate powerful connection. We shared much common ground on our thoughts and hopes about the continent we both called home. It was after meeting her and another amazing woman called Julie Endee that the character of Rita was birthed. The complexities of all of these women, of their personalities, of their choices was something I had to fully embrace, no matter how uncomfortable at times, in order to give their humanity its full breath.
REVIEW IN ZIMBABWE'S FINANCIAL GAZETTE NEWSPAPER
Wednesday, 16 May 2012 by Diana Rodrigues
Some members of the audience at the recent Reps performance of Danai Gurira’s theatre production, Eclipsed, will have felt themselves transported back to the turbulent years of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle throughout the 1970s.
￼ The action of Gurira’s powerful drama is set in the Liberia of 2003, a country divided by civil war, where women and children suffered atrocities from soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Although Zimbabwe was waging a war of independence, there will have been some resemblances in the bush camps and in the violence visited upon rural populations, with the most vulnerable members of society bearing the brunt of the turmoil.
While Danai Gurira is American-born, she grew up and was educated in Zimbabwe. Whether writing, acting or directing, her desire is to highlight the experience of African women, and in Eclipsed she tells the story of women rebels in Liberia. Abducted and raped, young women and girls become ‘officers’ wives’ or sex slaves, performing domestic and wifely duties until they can escape. The action of this drama takes place in the quarters of the CO of a rebel bush camp and his four ‘wives’. Props are minimal. A zinc tub is used alternately to wash clothes and to conceal the presence of a young girl who stumbled upon the camp when escaping marauding soldiers. There is a chest of drawers in which the four women keep their clothes, and a kitchen table where they prepare their staple diet of cassava. Brightly coloured Zambias spread on the floor provide sleeping arrangements.
The plight of the women, constantly controlled by the shadowy presence of the CO, who never actually appears on stage, is desperate. Fortunately, frequent flashes of wit and humour in Gurira’s clever script provide light relief. Wife Number One, skilfully played by Chipo Chikara, runs the household and assigns domestic duties to the other wives. Trusted by the CO she not only cooks all his meals, but also is informed about all his military units. At the end of the war, when Charles Taylor flees to Nigeria and the war ends, she is astounded to be summarily told to pack her bags and leave. Only then does she drop her designation as Wife Number One and reveal her name to be Helena.
The all female cast, which includes a peace worker who visits the camp to prepare inmates for the end of the war, is uniformly powerful and convincing. Of special interest is Wife Number Two, who escapes from the camp to become a soldier. Although her slinky appearance and interest in nail varnish exude a type of glamour, her AK-47 is her constant companion and we are aware that her mission is to kill anyone from the other side, whether man, woman or child. This character is modelled upon a real life young Liberian woman, Colonel Black Diamond, who was among Liberia’s most formidable rebel fighters. With her glamorous women bodyguards, she fought to topple a corrupt government. Now, in peacetime, she is acquiring an education and looking after her children.
Zane Lucas and Patience Tawengwa, director and co-director of Eclipsed, together with the resources of Reps Theatre, have brought a special type of theatre to Zimbabwe audiences. Tawengwa, who directed the award-winning Loupe, which premiered at HIFA 2008, told me that she feels that Eclipsed has a special message for women who feel ‘victimised by the patriarchal attitudes of Zimbabwean men.’ As co-director, she researched and helped the players understand the pivotal issues of violence, rape and unwanted pregnancies, a process essential to their convincing performances. Danai Gurira and Patience Tawengwa recently formed Almasi Collaborative Arts, which will professionalize Zimbabwean dramatic arts and ensure fair remuneration for Zimbabwean artists. With the emphasis on fearless creativity and rigorous standards for developing productions, theatre in Zimbabwe is set for global fame and recognition. Eclipsed runs at Reps Theatre until May 19.