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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Do you know what I do to protect you? You better show me some respect.— Number One to Number Three, in Eclipsed.
Miriam F. Glover and Kelly M. Jenrette.
(Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Our characters no longer have names. Those have been stolen from them when they were captured and placed in an unusual bondage. They are the wives (or mistresses) of a rebel commanding officer ("C.O.") waging combat in the jungles of Liberia. The setting of Danai Gurira's Eclipsed is, disturbingly, in the early 2000s.
Because they are defined via their status with their C.O. the women of Eclipsed are called Number One (Bahni Turpin), Number Two (Kelly M. Jenrette) and Number Three (Edwina Findley). A recently captured girl is just The Girl (Miriam F. Glover) until she is deflowered, by which time she becomes Number Four. Number Two has left the camp, picked up a rifle and has taken to war fighting and profiteering with the men. Now, in the spirit of "better them than me," she helps clear out villages and rounds up new women. Her nickname is Disgruntled.
Gurira, whose devastating play, In the Continuum played the Kirk Douglas Theatre, makes her Eclipsed women equally unforgettable. Director Robert O'Hara guides some surprisingly un-preachy material and his five-person, all female cast is superb.
Life in the compound is rough if simple. Number One, with the longest tenure, prepares the meals, assigns duties and distributes the spoils. She has been with C.O. for such a duration that she no longer remembers her age, and doesn't seem to mind a. that she is childless and b. that C.O. looks elsewhere for sexual satisfaction.
Number Three— girlish, clothes-obsessed and uneducated— is pregnant and not above trying to steal a dress. Number Four quickly loses any trace of frivolity the moment the terms of her capture become apparent. Which makes her turn, dangerously, to Number Two as a role model.
Four is the only woman in camp able to read, and she becomes the unofficial compound storyteller. She reads from a tattered biography of Bill Clinton ("Cleenton"), who becomes an idealized leader from the west. Compared to embattled Liberian president Charles Taylor, "Cleenton," a leader who tees off Congress because he sought a "Number Two," doesn't seem so bad.
The women's home is a circular forested compound which set designer Sibyl Wickersheimer decorates with a nice eye for grittiness. A short distance away, in the male camp, C.O regularly summons one or more of his wives. When they catch his eye, the women reflexively place their finger to their chests? Me? Is it me you want?
There is another woman in camp, Rita, (Michael Hyatt), a peacekeeping activist who has words of advice both for Number One and Number Two. Rita also has good cause to ask every female rebel she meets, "What is your name? Who was your mother?"
Eclipsed could be viewed as a war over The Girl/Number Four's soul and, indeed, Glover's hardened gun wielder is barely recognizable from the innocent who was frolicking and playing in the play's first scene. Turpin, a steady but not too maternal Number One, anchors the play's moral compass; she's got dreams of her own. And Jenrette's Number Two is both seductive and scary. And, yes, the character's survival instincts aren't without merit.
It is deliberate, of course, that Gurira has set her play toward the end of the 14-year conflict. Most of the unsavory acts take place off-stage or have happened in the past. Eclipsed is the playwright's contention of how peace could not have come to Liberia without the efforts of its women. And those women include patient organizers like Number One, angry non-conformists like Number Two, peace seekers like Rita and women like Number Four who are caught somewhere in between
By Danai Gurira
Directed by Robert O'Hara
Cast: Edwina Findley (Number Three), Bahni Turpin (Number One), Miriam F. Glover (The Girl), Kelly M. Jenrette (Number Two), Michael Hyatt (Rita.)
Stage Manager: Elle Aghabala
Set Design:Sibyl Wickersheimer
Costume Design: Alex Jaeger
Lighting Design: Christopher Kuhl
Sound Design: Adam Phalen
Running Time: 2 hours with one intermission
Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. (213) 628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org.
From September 13 to October 18
Tue-Sat. @ 8pm, Sat. @ 2 pm., Sun @ 1 pm and 6:30 pm.
Reviewed by Evan Henerson, based on September 22 performance.
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