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.

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