Theatre Review – Eclipsed starring Lupita Nyong’o (Broadway, New York)
After a wonderful trip to New York, which involved a lot of theatre (no surprise there right?!), I wanted to start catching up with my reviews with one of the highlights of my trip – Eclipsed by Danai Gurira. Fresh from an Off-Braodway run and the only play on Broadway this season written by a woman, Eclipsed is a superb piece of writing, which takes you on an emotional journey that stays with you long after you’ve left the Golden Theatre.
Set during the Liberian Civil War, within a soldier’s compound, we glimpse an insight in to the lives of the women who are caught up in a war ravaging the region. There we find five women – two of whom are wives of the camp’s CO, one who was but has since left to become a soldier, unwilling to simply be used for sex. Then there is the youngest of the women (known as the Girl, who at the start, the wives are trying to hide from the CO) and finally Rita, the oldest of the women, who as a member of a charity organisation is desperately trying to bring an end to the fighting and give freedom to women such as these to strive for a new life. They have lost so much, separated from family, losing independence and dignity, all reinforced by the lack of any names. Other than Rita, they are simply Wife #1,2,3 and Girl.
I know it may sound rather heavy and there are points within Eclipsed when the events are indeed darker and quite upsetting to think about. However the brilliance of Gurira’s writing is that it shifts effortlessly from such darker moments to scenes which are full of fun, humour and indeed evoke a great deal of laughter from the audience. It is a play which covers the emotional spectrum in a way few productions are able to achieve.
Building from such a strong base, its female director Liesel Tommy utilises the genius of the material to the full, resulting in its pace never failing and the powerful nature of the story shining through.
Then there are the performances. All five actresses in Eclipsed are utterly superb. The fact that three of the five are nominated for Tony Awards comes as no surprise to me (and the other two are equally deserving).
Akosua Busia is very good as Rita, always trying to reach out to the women and make them see a place for themselves away from the compound. Her constant question of what their real names are is a away of trying to bring them back to themselves. Zainab Jah is a powerful force as the former wife-turned soldier, who has turned to fighting and violence to gain some control of her life again. You admire her desire not to be a victim, while fearing for whom the war is turning her in to. As Wife #1 Saycon Sengbloh is the matriarch of the hut (and indeed seems much older on stage than off). Her word goes, but she cares deeply for the other women and is someone you admire.
I was particularly impressed with Pascale Armand as Wife #3. Her ability to bring so much humour and lightness from what could be such a desperate life is quite touching and it is her sense of mischief and fun that results in most of the laughter, which balances Eclipsed so well.
Finally there is Lupita Nyong’o, the headline star and Academy Award-winning actress whose decision to take this role rather than one in a big Hollywood film speaks volumes. Looking so much younger on stage than on screen, she is absolutely incredible as the Girl. Through her you witness all the highs and lows of what life for young girls in this world must be like. She brings the character to life with so much passion and emotion that there were moments that brought me to tears. It’s a raw, visceral performance which is utterly believable and holds your attention until the stage goes dark.
I loved Eclipsed and it will almost certainly be one of the highlights of theatre this year for me. Its setting may be a very serious and sometimes heartbreaking one, with the traumas of the women something you cannot ignore. However, above all, it captured for me a sense of hope. No matter how desperate life may seem, there is always hope. Through this message Eclipsed proved to be a powerful, emotional and thrilling production and one I am so pleased I was able to see. If you are in New York and can only see one production whilst there, go to Eclipsed. It captures everything that theatre should be.
Eclipsed continues its limited run at the Golden Theatre (252 W. 45th St.) until 19th June 2016. For more information, visit its website.