Opening nighters at “Eclipsed” might have been surprised by how much they laughed. The Broadway play, starring Lupita Nyong’o and written by “The Walking Dead” star Danai Gurira, is an intense story about the captive wives of a Liberian warlord. But there’s still plenty of warmth and humor, and that’s just true to life, noted director Liesl Tommy after the show’s March 6 opening.
“Growing up in South Africa during the apartheid years, in a mixed race community, humor was a huge part of the way we survived, and how we got through incredibly dark days,” said Tommy, at the lead of the first all-female, all-black Broadway show.
Everyone involved in the production seems to have a personal connection to it. “My family’s from West Africa,” said Zainab Jah, who portrays a wife-turned-soldier in the play. “I was born and raised in London, but my family’s from Sierra Leone, right next door to Liberia. It’s so wonderful to be able to bring stories of my people to my friends in America, who only know me as this exotic creature with an English accent.”
For Gurira, the Zimbabwean-American writer-performer making her Broadway debut as a playwright, “Eclipsed” was one of two plays happening simultaneously for her. Her newest play, “Familiar,” opened just last week at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons.
Which meant that sometimes Gurira had to let her collaborators on “Eclipsed,” which she wrote in 2009, take the lead on that one while she tended to “Familiar. “I spent a lot of time with ‘Familiar,’ since it’s a newborn,” she said. “Sometimes I really felt like a negligent parent!”
Nyong’o seems to relish the challenge of bringing the intimate play to a larger stage than the small Off Broadway space at the Public Theater, where the production played last year. “Everything is bigger,” Nyong’o said. “There’s more laughter. There’s more gasps. There’s more of everything. It feels like we have more story to tell.”