To be eclipsed is to be overshadowed, overpowered, diminished. The play “Eclipsed” introduces us to five women who lived through the scourge of the civil war in Liberia in 2003. Our country has been connected to turbulent Liberia since the early 1800s, but we did little to intervene in its struggles during its two civil wars.
The set design represents primitivism and poverty: clothes drying on a line, a few pots and pans, a grate for burning wood for cooking, and a large tub under which the young Wife #4 hides and emerges occupy the stage.
The women have no names. They are represented by numbers - Wife #1, 2, 3 and 4. #4 is the latest arrival to this band of women who are sex slaves to a Commando of the rebel army.
The Commando is never seen. He just calls each woman as he pleases, and they respond. Wife #3, played by Sola Thompson, is pregnant and is no longer providing any services. She is not happy with her situation, for she is more interested in her looks than anything else. She likes pretty clothes and lovely wigs.
Wife #1 seems to be in charge. She works harder than anyone else and seems resigned to her lot. In some ways, we feel the most sympathy for Wife #1, portrayed by Jacqueline Nwabueze.
Wife #2 is absent when the play begins and suddenly appears in very stylish dress, carrying a big gun. Played by Ashleigh Awusie, she wants to take control of her life and have some power. She convinces the young wife #4 to join her, so she, too, can escape being a sex slave.
Matty Sangare’s Wife #4 is educated, unlike the other three wives. She is also na•ve and has a hard time with some of the realities and the ugliness she observes when she is involved in the fighting. She seems incapable of becoming desensitized, unlike Wife #2, to the pain and suffering she observes, especially by women who are callously mistreated.
Wives #1 and #3 are not at all fond of Wife #2. She has deserted them and makes them feel inferior and weaker. The interactions of these women who are all trying to survive constitute the story.
Enter a fifth character, Rita, a woman who is working with a peace organization that is trying to mediate the end of the conflict. Portrayed by Nancy Moricette, she is regarded with skepticism at first but eventually has an impact on all but Wife #2, who looks like she is capable of forging her own path without anyone’s help.
The play is both powerful and disturbing. It is hard to even imagine what many people’s lives are like and the hardships they have to endure. Many of us have been too pampered and comfortable to envision the realities manifested here.
It was a bit challenging to understand the accent of the actors. We missed some of the words, but the gist of the drama was always understandable. Director May Adrales gathered a very talented cast to present this raw story written by playwright Danai Gurira. It was a gut-wrenching experience with some comic relief thrown in occasionally for contrast. A sense of humor can sometimes provide a momentary relief.
The drama runs through March 29 at the Milwaukee Rep, 108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee. Call 414-224-9490 or visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com.