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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Eclipsed

Also see Susan's review of A Piece of My Heart

Eclipsed
Uzo Aduba, Liz Femi Wilson, Ayesha Ngaujah
Eclipsed, the season opener at Washington's Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, shines a bright and sensitive light on the lives of women in the shadows of upheaval in Africa. Playwright Danai Gurira, who grew up in Zimbabwe, focuses on women in Liberia and how they have been forced to rely on each other in the midst of factionalism and civil war.

The fact of women's subjugation in African wars is receiving a lot of dramatic attention right now: Lynn Nottage's play Ruined, which received the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, concerns the use of rape as a military tactic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Liberia, however, women worked to engineer a society beyond the battlefield, playing major roles both as rebel fighters and peace activists, and leading to the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the nation's president—the first woman elected head of state anywhere in Africa.

Gurira portrays the struggle through the microcosm of five women in a Liberian rebel army camp. Three are the captive wives of the commanding general, unseen but constantly present in spirit: the senior wife (Uzo Aduba) tries to keep a lid on things; the girlish third wife (Liz Femi Wilson) is pregnant and frustrated; and the fourth and newest wife (Ayesha Ngaujah), while relatively innocent, brings them a new form of entertainment and information because she knows how to read. Thrown together by circumstance, they work within the hierarchy and protect each other when need be—but the balance shifts with the return of the second wife (Jessica Frances Dukes), now a machine-gun carrying revolutionary, and the arrival of a peace worker (Dawn Ursula).

Gurira is the co-creator and performer of In the Continuum, which Woolly Mammoth hosted two seasons ago as part of a national tour. Eclipsed makes even clearer her ability to get inside a variety of characters and channel them without a false moment. The core of the drama is the choice facing the fourth wife: will she stay in the parody of domesticity she shares in the camp, or will she follow the rebellious second wife into a world where, with a semi-automatic rifle in her hand, she can dominate those around her?

The five women in the cast, well directed by Liesl Tommy, all stand out in their own ways, ranging from Ursula's deep calm and Aduba's need for control to Dukes' fury. Colin K. Bills' lighting design and Veronika Vorel's sound design help draw the audience in, especially the shimmering bursts of light representing a nighttime thunderstorm.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Eclipsed
August 31st September 27th
By Danai Gurira
Helena: Uzo Aduba
Bessie: Liz Femi Wilson
Girl: Ayesha Ngaujah
Maima: Jessica Frances Dukes
Rita: Dawn Ursula
Directed by Liesl Tommy
641 D St. N.W., Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-393-3939 or www.woollymammoth.net


Photo: Stan Barouh


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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