Issues surrounding modern war and conflict are rarely simple. Feminism certainly isn’t, either. Neither are families, romantic relationships, child soldiers, or individual identity. Danai Gurira’s Eclipsed rolls all of these deeply complex themes into a five-character play set in the Liberian civil war, but does so with brilliant writing and a raw, close-up view of characters in a world torn apart.
Eclipsed focuses almost completely on the lives of the four “wives” of the Commanding Officer of one of the rebel factions, living communally and enjoying a life of privilege. Their privilege consists of not being raped by other soldiers, instead only having to go to the C.O. when he summons them from offstage with booming handclaps. The women enjoy looted clothing, and mostly get along. Though all have names, they refer to each other by their rank: number 1, number 2, and so on, with number 1 being in charge. Number 2’s the outcast of the four as a soldier fighting Charles Taylor’s government, but she still periodically returns to the hut bearing gifts and aggravation. Though they all have lost family and hide their real names, these women feel incredibly privileged because they’re alive, and don’t have to be raped by anyone other than the C.O.
The dialogue flows easily, but was deeply uncomfortable to experience from the position of Western privilege. Moments of levity are stepping stones that prevent the audience from drowning in the bleak circumstances that drive the play. I find this level of audience discomfort is rare in theatre, but one that is absolutely vital. Actually, theatre needs more of it – the majority of regular theatregoers are middle class and have no experience of life in a war zone other than watching the news. These audiences need to be shaken, hard, and reminded that whilst we have lots of nice things in our lives, many more people in the world don’t. Particularly women trying to survive in war zones.
This is, without question, a feminist play. My initial instinct is to say it’s radically feminist, but on reflection I believe that thought came from the exotic “otherness” of the production rather than any particular issue. Childbirth, education and reproductive consent are at the forefront, which are pretty mainstream feminist topics. Sisterhood is ever present, with its bonding and conflict. Less common and utterly horrific is Number 2’s belief that being an armed soldier empowers young women and keeps them safe from rape. The downside is that you then have to kill the enemy and give the surviving women and girls to your side’s own soldiers. Sorry, there’s my privilege showing again.
This otherness also contributes to the excellence of the overall production; I have never seen a play so simultaneously brutal and brilliant. The production values are flawless in that the production needs no alteration or development. It’s raw, in-yer-face, and will linger with you and your privileged guilt for a long time. All five performances are a masterclass in acting. The design is strikingly simple with an inclusive audience arrangement. There are belly laughs. There are moments you feel like your guts are being slowly tugged from your body and your eyes are held open. With all the terror Eclipsed lays bare, it should be a legal requirement for everyone living a comfortable life away from war to see this play. The world would be a better place.
Star Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
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