On Eclipsed (the play)
on friday, i saw the play eclipsed on broadway. before i even begin discussing the play, let me say that this is a top 5 moment of my life. not only have i always wanted to see a play on broadway but i got to see a play focused around liberian women. furthermore, this play is the first with an all black + female creative cast and team. how amazing!
eclipsed was written by danai grurira and takes place in liberia during the end of the second civil war (2003). eclipsed tells the story of 4 liberian women who were captured and kidnapped then forced to become the wives of a C.O in LURD (liberians united for reconciliation and democracy). lupita nyong'o plays the 4th wife, a 15 year old girl who sought hiding with the 2 other wives (wife 1 and wife 2) but then raped and forced to become a wife for the C.O. the 3rd wife left the C.O to become a rebel in the war and later recruits lupita.
i won't go into detail about the play itself but rather how i felt about it as a liberian woman. first and most importantly, this story needed to be told. as a liberian woman, i needed to see our stories told without revolving around men. without revolving solely around rape. without revolving solely around us as mothers. our stories needed to be told without tropes. it needed to be told and grurira did just that. i could definitely tell that a woman had written this story. there was something different. although the women were captured and forced to be the wives of the C.O, he was never present. this was key. rather than surrounding the story around this man, the writer chose to keep him invisible while still showing the power he held.
i also enjoyed that grurira eliminated tropes. she didn't create the strong liberian women or the helpless liberian women. she created complex women. these women are strong in their own ways. wife 1 is protective and is a leader. she leads the other wives. wife 2 has found a way to ease her trauma through laughter. wife 3 leaves the C.O and joins the fight in order to exert her power over men who once raped her. wife 4, who is not even a woman, can read and wants to be a "constitutional lawyer." yet, in all of this strength they are properties of war. their bodies belong to this C.O. gurira did a phenomenal job creating this complexity.
now with praise comes critique. my main critique of the play would be the accents. the women in my opinion struggled with their colloquial (liberian english). at some parts, i felt the women retreated to typical african accents. it may seem juvenile, but honoring the tongues of liberian women is vital to telling their story. the conversation of representation in film still applies to the continent + diaspora.
secondly, while i adore lupita nyong'o, i wish a liberian woman would have been used as the lead. all of the marketing material for this play has lupita nyong'o's face plastered on it which is understandable given her status in hollywood. it brings in more money and more interest. nonetheless, this story is about liberian women. this story is still fresh. this story is literally still being unpacked by women in liberia. having a liberian woman empowered and able to be the face of this play would have sealed the deal for me. its important that we do not make one african actress the face of africa. lupita was brilliant, she was powerful, she played the hell out of this role but, I'm sure a liberian woman could have done the same.
overall, i applaud the entire creative team and actresses. they did an amazing job. i am even impressed that such a story is being told on such a big stage. also, to show how truly woman centered the story is, the play is dedicated to the over 200+ chibok girls kidnapped in nigerian. after each play, the names of 2 girls are said and the audience are asked to say their names outloud. so powerful.
** i would recommend you doing somer research on liberia's civil wars before seeing the play or after reading this / laymah gbowee's book mighty be our powers.