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Eclipsed
by Lauren Emily Whalen
2018-10-17

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Playwright: Danai Gurira

At Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. Tickets: $18-30; PegasusTheatreChicago.org . Runs through: Nov. 4

"How you gonna survive?"

If you think about it broadly, every female must answer this question. But if you're a Liberian woman in 2003 when your country is in the throes of civil war, the answers are limited. You can have a commanding officer's baby and revel in the stolen outfits and boom boxes he brings you. You can become a peace activist, but only if you have the money and education. Or you can pick up an AK-47 and make your own rules.

What if you're 15, abducted from your parents' home, tossed into a rebel camp and raped nightly? How exactly do you survive? Pegasus Theatre Chicago's Eclipsed sets out to answer that question and the results, while not for the faint of heart, are simply stunning.

In 2016, Eclipsed became the first play to open on Broadway with an all-Black, all-female creative team and cast. Playwright Danai Gurira ( yes, the same Danai Gurira who starred in Black Panther and The Walking Dead ) was inspired by a New York Times photo of African women, dressed fashionably and packing assault rifles. Indeed, one character ( Adhana Reid )—formerly known as "Wife #2"—embodies that photograph. Once confined to a compound with a rebel officer's two other women, she now struts around in tight jeans and her very own gun, stopping in frequently to rub her newfound power in the faces of the deeply insecure Wife #1 ( Maya V. Prentiss ) and the very pregnant Wife #3 ( Aja Singletary ). When a teenage girl ( Sola Thompson ) finds herself in the unfortunate role of Wife #4, she's torn between the two women who strive to protect her, and the one who seems to have it all despite the war-torn environment.

Director Ilesa Duncan infuses Gurira's frank dialogue with a series of arresting images. The Girl learns to use an assault rifle, her fingers festooned with bright pink nail polish. Peace activist Rita ( Morayo Orija ) teaches the illiterate Wife #1 to write her name in the dirt, and the latter's expression changes from disbelief to joy. When Wife #2 goes into labor, she cries out—not in pain, but for her beloved wig.

Gurira and Duncan never stop reminding us that these women are victims, but they're also human, dancing to the radio and poring over their only book, a biography of Bill Clinton. ( They refer to Monica Lewinsky as Clinton's "Wife #2." ) The cast is incredibly skilled, navigating their characters' complexities and relationships with the kind of ease that only comes from very diligent preparation.

A thorough, illustrated lobby display informs the audience that the Liberian fight for freedom was very female-driven, with women negotiating for peace as well as shooting civilians. Eclipsed brings to glaring life a very recent piece of history with Black women at its center. "You have to work within the system," Wife #2 informs Rita, "and right now, the system is war." Perhaps one day, this line will feel irrelevant.


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