Friday, October 16, 2009


The West-Coast premier of Eclipsed, Danai Gurira's new play at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, is a gripping and graphic story about five women caught in Liberia's bloody civil war in 2003.

Three women are the "wives" of a rebel commanding officer in a military camp; one of them is a young girl. They are occasionally summoned off-stage to fulfill their sexual obligations to him in return for the safety of the camp and the agreement that the other soldiers will not forcefully take their turns with them. There are no men on stage in this play, it is the story of the women that are forced to survive in a violent war, their lives dictated by the murders and rape of the offstage men. They are given food, clothes, and trinkets from the conquered villages from the general. They receive a book and the girl, the only one among them that can read, regales them with the tale of American "big man" Bill Clinton. Their understandings of what the Bill-Hillary-Monica situation must have meant through the lens of their own "marital" situation is a great moment.

Even with moments of humor, the play is gut-wrenchingly tragic. A former wife-turned soldier convinces the girl that she can control her own fate with a gun and never let a man rape her again. Attracted by the idea of such freedom, the girl joins the army only to find herself holding other young girls at gun-point so that other soldiers can rape them instead. The question of "it's them or me" takes on gruesome, horrific weight. Meanwhile, a woman peacemaker has entered the wives' camp and is using her education and loss of her own daughter to rebel soldiers to try to inspire the wives to leave camp, as the war will soon be over.

With no education or skill set, the women are unsure of what to do: All they know is a life of violence and survival. The haunting question of how to move forward leaves the women, and the audience, at a loss. Not exactly the feel-good hit of the season, Eclipsed is a beautiful, challenging play about the resilience of women and the frailty of hope in war-torn countries.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I have been waiting for this production of Parade to come to the Mark Taper Forum for over a year, and so with my expectation set so high I was a little concerned I might come away disappointed. I shouldn't have worried.

Set in 1913 Atlanta, Georgia, a young girl is tragically murdered during the Confederate Memorial Day parade in the pencil factory in which she works, and her Jewish, Yankee boss is accused and convicted without much of a trial. The town is in a frenzy reminiscent of The Crucible and wild anti-Semitic tales come out of unreliable sources, creating a tension and distortion of the truth that brings about more heartbreak and destruction.

T.R. Knight, of Grey's Anatomy fame, plays Leo Frank, the man accused of murder, with perfect meticulous, controlling tics required for the often-cold, displaced Brooklyn Jew. His wonderful speech patterns conveyed his change from a distant, difficult husband to a loving and appreciative one. His wife Lucille, played by original London Donmar cast member Lara Pulver, has an effortless, beautiful voice that also shapes her journey from a meek and lonely housewife to a powerful woman determined to seek justice for her husband at all costs. The entire ensemble was great at playing multiple characters, but one standout actor was David St. Louis, whose physical and vocal power on stage left the audience in awe.

Tony-award winning composer Jason Robert Brown was in the audience the night that I saw the show, and it was so fun to watch him watch his own work. He was mouthing the words and conducting from his own score from his seat, and absolutely beamed whenever the audience laughed at his words. The visual appeal of this show was outstanding: There was a tattered old gray painting of a Confederate scene hanging over the factory, which at times was lit to restore its full color, or even evoke other images altogether.

If you can get to downtown Los Angeles before November 15th, go see this beautiful show. The Mark Taper Forum is a part of Center Theatre Group and so has the Hot Tix program, where every performance has tickets available for $20. Definitely worth it for this story.