Many folks who care about fine theatre in Atlanta have heard about or seen Danai Gurira’s searing drama “Eclipsed,” running at Synchronicity Theatre, directed by Tinashe Kajese-Bolden, through June 25. I know this because I attended last night’s sold-out performance; and even though the play’s run is finished after this weekend, attention must be paid.
“Terror is the given of the place,” wrote Joan Didion in “Salvador” in 1982; but her sentence could also have been about events in Liberia a decade ago, where the play is set. Five women comprise the cast, and each is extraordinary. Director Kajese-Bolden points out that in times of war women are often the most vulnerable to acts of atrocity, in “the mandate to divide and dehumanize.”
The scene is a hut, a shanty somewhere in the Liberian countryside where three women are being held captive by an unseen warlord known as “C.O” At various times he signals one of the women to his presence and rapes them. One of the women, “Wife #1” (Shayla Love) has been there ten years, captured while a young teenager; she is strong yet maternal. “Wife #3” (Charity Purvis Jordan) is pregnant.
Both women are trying to shield a young woman (“The Girl,” played by Asha Duniani) from the C. O., but they both know their efforts will be short-lived. Soon she is discovered, called, and raped, and some of the light begins to leave her eyes. Amazingly, she still reads aloud from a battered biography of Bill Clinton, confusing Monica Lewinski as a sort of Wife #2.
Yes, astonishingly, these women find humanity and even some levity in this hell of captivity. There is a “Wife #2,” but she has escaped and transformed herself into a soldier, fighting alongside the rebels. She is called simply “Disgruntled,” played superbly by Isake Akanke; she is fierce and fiery.
She tries to recruit The Girl as a soldier, insisting that that is the only way to survive: to become as ruthless as the enemy soldiers, their captors. In what is a terrifying, heartbreaking scene, Disgruntled attempts to “train” The Girl, who is naturally gentle and childlike, into a warrior. Disgruntled succeeds, up to a point; but that flickering light of life in The Girl’s eyes is turning to despair. This is a terrible thing to witness.
There is another woman called Rita (Parris Sarter), an emissary who appears to attempt to broker a peace agreement, with little success.
By this point you may wonder, as an audience member, why submit yourself to such pain and horror? I’ll tell you why: We know by now that we are a global village; and without compassion and empathy, we cease to be human.
Furthermore, the theatre, when it’s this good and has people of this level of talent and dedication, is uniquely qualified to force us to empathize, if you will. Most of these actors were unfamiliar to me; Synchronicity is to be lauded mightily for bringing this event to fruition.
Kudos to the legendary Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay for another perfect scenic design.
I think we realize that unless you’ve experienced a concentration camp yourself, you can’t really know, despite what you read and see, what that is like. I was quite shattered by this play. Perhaps it’s a hair too much at a high level of intensity, but what else are they to do?
I think it’s a lovely touch that the actors assemble to greet audience members after the play. I tried to compliment Ms. Duniani (The Girl); I found myself virtually unable to speak; she kindly and graciously gave me a hug—which meant a lot to me. Try to see “Eclipsed” if you can.
For tickets and information, visit synchrotheatre.com.