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Monday, 04 April 2011 22:47

War brides

Written by Bob Wilcox
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wustl.edu/David Kilper
wustl.edu/David Kilper

Washington University's production of Danai Gurira's Eclipsed gives us a second play this season about the plight of women trapped in the civil wars and insurrections of sub-Saharan Africa during the past decades. The first was Ruined, recently at The Black Rep.

Like Ruined, Eclipsed shows us young women who have been raped and held in virtual slavery by soldiers. Unlike in Ruined, in Eclipsed we never see any of the soldiers. We see only the women.

Except for a few scenes set outside near the battlefield, the play takes place entirely in one room in the compound of an officer rebelling against the regime of Liberia's Charles Taylor. It's a meticulously detailed set by James Wolk, carefully lighted by Sean M. Savoie.

In the room live three women, all now identified as wives of the officer. A distinct hierarchy exists among them. Jessica Davie plays Number 1. Though Davie is the smallest woman in the cast, Number 1, bright and assured, knows well her place in the pecking order and is not to be trifled with. Number 3, played by Evoney Hutt, is the least mature of the women and is very visibly pregnant. Vanika Spencer plays the newcomer who is at first hidden from the officer by the other two women. When the officer discovers her and initiates her into his harem, Spencer makes vivid the emotional pain she suffers in this destruction of her maiden dreams. Number 4 does have one advantage: she can read.

Wife Number 2, abused by the others because she was the favorite, has fled the compound and become a soldier herself. Now with the ever-phallic rifle, she can defend herself; she is no longer a weak woman but virtually a man. Eboni Sharp, tall and commanding, comes on strong. She persuades Number 4 to join her, with painfully mixed results, clear arguments for the advantages and disadvantages of taking up arms.

A fifth woman, played with mature confidence by Yasmin Boakye, is one of those called "Mama Peace," women who were working, ultimately successfully, to bring about an end to the fighting in Liberia. She comes to the compound to comfort and help the women, apparently with the grudging permission, perhaps even respect, of the officer, though her exact status was not clear to me.

Playwright Gurira's writing finely traces the relationships among the women and with their world. As much as possible in this extreme situation, she avoids the merely sensational.
The work of the five actors also is careful and exact, with beautiful rhythms and pacing in the playing, their Liberian speech so well done as to be almost unintelligible to me at times. Credit also Andrea Urice's direction. Costumes by Sallie Durbin, sound by Tim Albert, and props by Becca Dieffenbach all make significant contributions. This is a powerful and moving production of a powerful and moving play.

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