×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: Lupita Nyong’o in ‘Eclipsed,’ From ‘Walking Dead’s’ Danai Gurira

With:
Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah, Lupita Nyong'o, Saycon Sengbloh.

Playwright Danai Gurira — also the actress best known as Michonne on “The Walking Dead” — delivers politics with a passion in “Eclipsed,” a searing drama about the decisive roles women played in the second Liberian civil war — during which warlords conscripted child soldiers, ate each other’s hearts and performed human sacrifice. Superbly directed by Liesl Tommy and powerfully acted by a strong ensemble led by the Oscar-winning star of “12 Years a Slave,” Lupita Nyong’o, the play gives voice to women ranging from the wives of warlords to activists in Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, the political action group that brought an end to the war.

Meticulously detailed design work by Clint Ramos (set and costumes), Jen Schriever (lighting) and Broken Chord (sound) presents a surreal — or perhaps hyper-real — setting of the bullet-riddled one-room hovel where the captured wives and, inevitably, the bastard children of a base commander of the rebel Liberian army are housed. The women are colorfully clothed in authentic but well-worn native dress, and when they aren’t servicing their unseen lord and master, they remain sequestered in this small room, cooking for him, laundering his clothes and awaiting his every command.

Helena (the quietly dignified Saycon Sengbloh) is wife #1, the stern and sensible heart of the household. Bessie (Pascale Armand, enchanting) is wife #3, bubbly and babyish, although soon to deliver a baby of her own. There’s not a sign of Maima (the vivacious Zainab Jah), who, although still officially wife #2, has run off to join the rebel army, a sexy soldier “fighting for freedom” in provocative halter tops and bejeweled jeans.

A 15-year-old orphan known only as the Girl (a heartbreaker, in Nyong’o’s lovely performance) has fled the fighting and taken refuge with the wives, who hide her as best they can under a washtub. But this beautiful virgin is found out, and to her everlasting sorrow becomes wife #4.

The play is about the three-way struggle for the Girl’s heart and soul, artfully reflecting the difficult choices that every Liberian girl must make when she becomes a woman. Will she put herself under the protection of a powerful warlord, as the commander’s two remaining wives have done? Should she make her own destiny and become a soldier, like the swaggering Maima? Or will women like Rita (the forthright Akosua Busia) convince her that true survival — of self, and more important, of home and country — lies in joining the Peace Women of Liberia and working to end the civil war?

The Girl may be young and unsophisticated, but she’s no dummy, and in Nyong’o’s intelligent performance, she’s a boldly independent thinker. Unnerved by the dehumanization of the wives, she impresses on them the importance of knowing who you are, how old you are and where you come from.  Although it’s sadly ironic that she herself has no given or family name, she instinctively understands that clinging to one’s own identity keeps a woman from becoming a slave.

The playwright’s argument is that women may be politically powerless, but they have other assets — like moral strength, dignity, and compassion — to draw upon in order to survive man-made wars without giving up their own humanity.  The Girl may be too young and inexperienced to know which path she wants to take, but she’s brave enough to listen to the arguments of both the soldiers and the peacemakers.  And while Gurira boldly leaves the Girl’s final decision unresolved, she’s unafraid to give every woman a voice in her own destiny.

Off Broadway Review: Lupita Nyong'o in 'Eclipsed,' From 'Walking Dead's' Danai Gurira

Public Theater / LuEsther Theater; 177 seats; $95 top. Opened Oct. 14, 2015. Reviewed Oct. 10. Running time: TWO HOURS, 20 MIN.

Production: A Public Theater presentation of the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company production of a play in two acts by Danai Gurira.

Creative: Directed by Liesl Tommy.  Sets & costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, Jen Schriever; original music & sound, Broken Chord; hair & wigs, Cookie Jordan; fight directors, Rick Sordelet & Christian Kelly-Sordelet; voice & dialect coach, Beth McGuire; production stage manager, Diane Divita.

Cast: Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, Zainab Jah, Lupita Nyong'o, Saycon Sengbloh.

More Legit

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: More Reviews Film Review: [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Made in [...]

  • Frozen review Broadway

    ‘Frozen’ the Musical Opening in London in 2020

    “Frozen” the musical is coming to London and will open in the West End in fall 2020. The Michael Grandage-directed Disney Theatrical Productions stage show has been on Broadway for a year. Grandage’s production is now set to re-open Andrew Lloyd Webber’s refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane. More Reviews Film Review: ‘Made in Abyss: Journey’s [...]

  • Nantucket Sleigh Ride review

    Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride'

    Anyone who doesn’t have a cottage on the Cape or the Islands, as they say in Massachusetts, might be puzzled by the title of John Guare’s new play.  “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” is no Revere Beach amusement park ride, but an old whaling term for the death throes of a whale that is still attached to [...]

  • Kiss Me Kate review

    Broadway Review: 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    No, Kate doesn’t get spanked. And for those wondering how the dicey ending of “Kiss Me, Kate” — that musical mashup of “The Taming of the Shrew” and backstage battling exes — would come across in these more sensitive times, well, that’s also been reconsidered for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of the Cole [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    West End Review: Tom Hiddleston in 'Betrayal'

    It takes three to tango, and Jamie Lloyd’s “Betrayal” completely grasps that. Having made it his mission to modernize the way we stage Harold Pinter’s plays, his chic, stripped-down staging starring Tom Hiddleston as a cuckolded husband might be his best attempt yet. Pared back and played out on an empty stage, this masterful play [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content