"Eclipsed" Review - Northlight Theatre's "Eclipsed" Shines

Thanks to excellent writing and a first-rate cast, production staff, and direction by Hallie Gordon, Eclipsed, playing at Northlight Theatre, had us hooked from the beginning.

Award-winning actress and playwright Danai Gurira has written a fascinating play about surviving dire circumstances, told through the story of four engaging women. Captured by rebel forces during one of Liberia’s civil wars, each woman must come to terms in her own way with the degrading experiences of being a forced “wife” to one of the rebel leaders. What we witness on stage is not the violence done to these women, but their responses to it, which are interesting, varied, and in the end, surprising.

Alana Arenas as "Wife" No. 1, Penelope Walker as Rita, Leslie Ann Sheppard as No. 3, Paige Collins as No. 4

Our introduction to the world of the play is Jack Magaw’s evocative set, full of visual interest and a variety of spaces for different scenes, always an issue with a single-set production. We see the interior of the one-room living area of the women, their few belongings, a small courtyard and clothesline, the commanding officer’s separate quarters, all surrounded by the compound wall, topped with barbed wire.

Although the program lists the wonderfully cast “wives” by character name, it is only in the last moments of the play that the women are called by anything other than their number in the hierarchy of their small group.

No. 1 (Alana Arenas) and No. 3 (Leslie Ann Sheppard) confront rebel fighter No. 2 (Tamberla Perry)

“Wife” No. 1, subtly played by Alana Arenas, is the oldest and most experienced in living in the camp. She tries to guide and protect the younger women, not always successfully. No. 2 ( Tamberla Perry, who is convincingly athletic-looking and angry) appears later in the play, when she returns from fighting with the rebels against Charles Taylor’s forces.  No. 3 (the appealing Leslie Ann Sheppard) is younger, a chatterbox, acquisitive, pregnant—and funny. We watch No. 4, a 15-year-old girl played with emotional depth by Paige Collins, as her experiences change her and as she changes her own life more than once. The women are joined later by Penelope Walker, capably playing Rita, one of a group of women peace negotiators.

The roles of both the woman soldier and peace negotiator are based on the real experiences of Liberian women during the civil wars. Playwright Gurira, who was born in the U.S. and raised in Zimbabwe and who taught in Liberia, interviewed Liberian women and conducted extensive research before writing Eclipsed. One feels that the playwright has caught the speech patterns and accent as well as the searing experiences of the characters in her play.

No. 1 (Alana Arenas) shows photos in Clinton book to No. 4 (Paige Collins) as No. 3 (Leslie Ann Sheppard) looks on skeptically

One of the pleasures of the production is hearing English spoken as it is in Liberia. The cast speaks so clearly that the unaccustomed accent was not a problem for us. Before the play, be sure to look at the brief list of the few terms unfamiliar to American audiences.

No. 1 gives their lone book to No. 4 as No. 3 stands by

With the rest of the audience, we enjoyed the reactions of the women to No. 4’s reading (No. 4 is the only one in the group who is literate) of an American book that is part of the miscellaneous stolen goods brought to the compound: a book about Bill Clinton. In a few lines we have a glimpse into the unexpected reactions of people in different cultures to American issues.

Charles Cooper's lighting effects create a nighttime scene around a fire

All aspects of production were excellent:

Effective lighting design by Charles Cooper changes the look and mood of the set, creates beautiful changes to the “sky,” and forwards and enhances the action, for example when a light from within the commander’s building is used to represent his demands for attention and when special effects are used for a gun battle outside the compound.

Christopher Kriz’s sound design provides the only male voices heard during the play, from news reports on the radio. In contrast to the sounds of war during the firefight, the faint sounds of birds in another scene remind us of the world of nature. In one interesting transition, the music playing in the theatre before a scene is switched to the tinny sound of the same music coming from the radio as the scene started.

Alana Arenas in foreground and Leslie Ann Sheppard in background, wearing Myron Elliott, Jr's costumes

Costumes by Myron Elliott, Jr. help to establish characters (when peace worker Rita walks in for the first time wearing her tidy dress, we know she’s not living in the camp) and highlight changes in the women’s lives.

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

Northlight Theatre
9501 Skokie Blvd
Skokie IL

Tickets $40 - $50
Tickets for those 25 and under are $10, subject to availability

Box Office Hours:
Monday – Friday, 10 am – 5 pm;
Saturdays 12 pm – 5pm;
Sundays only on performance days, when it is open two hours prior to showtime

Performances until February 20, 2011
Curtain times:
Tuesdays at 7:30 pm (except Feb. 1 and 8);
Wednesdays at 1 pm and 7:30 pm (except Feb. 2);
Thursdays at 7:30 pm;
Fridays at 8 pm;
Saturdays at 2:30 pm and 8 pm;
Sundays at 2:30 pm and 7 pm (except Feb 20)


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