By Marlene S. Gaylinn

T“Eclipsed” is about the recent civil war in Liberia and how women managed to survive the brutal circumstances of rapes, killings and sexual enslavement by powerful warlords.  A scene, that many of us are unfamiliar with is vividly brought to our attention by award-winning playwright, Danai Gurira, who was born in the US to Zimbabwean parents, raised in Zimbabwe, and received her MFA from New York University.  To gather material Gurira went to Liberia to observe the situation and interview the women who struggled during the war, overturned the government, and eventually elected a woman president.

The play takes place in a rebel army camp in 2003.  In a poor, jungle hut four women are being held captive and periodically, sexually terrorized by a warlord who lives on a hill behind them.   The women have formed a family whose pecking order is determined by their status.  Wife Number One rules the roost.  She hands out the cleaning and cooking chores to her underlings and keeps order among the younger women.  Wife Number Three is pregnant by the warlord of this camp. Wife Number Four, called “Girl” has recently arrived and has been so traumatized by the killings in her family that she has forgotten her name.
 Wife Number Two, “Maima” has left the compound.  She joined another rebel camp where women are allowed to hold an AK-47 for both defensive and offensive purposes.  These women soldiers are trained to shoot people indiscriminately and herd other village women into slave camps for the pleasure of another camp’s warlord.  In return, the army women are given funds to buy luxuries that are not normally available.  Maima occasionally sneaks visits to her former compound in order to show off and demonstrate power.  She also wants to recruit the newly arrived “Girl” into her army.

 “Rita” is a women’s peace activist who comes on the scene to enlighten the wives.  Her mission is to guide them towards a better solution to their plight.  The question is, will she able to convince everyone to leave?  And, will “Girl” decide go with the women’s army or the peace movement.

In the end, the engrossing drama is about the life of Liberian women during the civil war.  Complex, background information, how the women managed to survive, and the choices that determined their future is portrayed very realistically by the playwright.  The direction, by Liesl Tommy leads you right into the tense situation. While the actors speak loudly, the only problem for the audience is the use of an English dialect that is sometimes difficult to understand.

The mood is not always dark and grim.  Human pride and vanity enter the portrayal.  And, along the way, there are funny bits about President Clinton’s visit to Liberia.  This is all in a book that “Girl,” who has been taught to read, brings with her to the compound.  She reads the chapters aloud, as if they are episodes in TV Soap Opera, to the open-eyed fascination of the other wives.  This prompts a great deal of puzzlement regarding Clinton’s so-called “Wife Number Two” (Monica Lewinsky) and his subsequent trouble with Congress – which cleverly serves to emphasize the clash of cultures.

Pascale Armand, Stacy Sargeant, Adepero Oduye, Zainab Jah and Shona Tucker form the ensemble of excellent, seasoned performers that will transport you to Liberia, and keep you interested in the engrossing story they have to tell.

“Eclipsed” plays at Yale Rep. through Nov. 14. . Call: 203 432-1234

This article appears in November’s “On Connecticut Theatre.”

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