Oscar Winner Lupita Nyong’o continues to astonish us. “Eclipsed” a searing play by Danai Gurira is the strongest new play on Broadway right now, and Ms. Nyong’o is giving an absolutely astounding performance, as a character simply known as “Girl.”She enters from inside an overturned metal bath tub, pictured above ^ and if you are expecting to recognize her from her glamorous red carpet turns and from the Oscars, you won’t.The audience I saw it with, didn’t. And I didn’t recognize her at all til half-way through the first act, so deeply is she submerged in her character, a 16 year-old refugee in the middle of the Liberian war who has been hiding in the bush. She finds some kind of solace in being hidden(and sleeping under) this suffocating iron tub from which she emerges drenched in sweat and fear.
The women who are sheltering her feel she will be raped, if found, and turned into another “wife” like they are. Really just sex slaves for the “C.O.” the commanding officer of the army, whom we never see. Except as a shadow. They all jump to attention and line-up when this large, dark shadow falls on them, and wait to be picked, for the night.
They have no names of their own only “Wife #1” or “Wife #3”. They can barely remember before the War which has raged on for 15 years, and have forgotten their real names their “mother gave them.”
It’s sort of the plot of “Eclipsed” that these women fight to save some kind of dignity and humanity that will allow them to remember who they once were as little girls in their mothers’ care. Before the civil war took everything from them.
They are now in sort of a bunker/hovel, but at least they are inside and not outside in “the bush” or jungle. “Eclipsed” is an astounding play, bringing us all into a world which we would expect to see perhaps onscreen. “Beasts of No Nation” springs to mind as an all male example of the ravages of civil war in Africa, and how mere children are turned into boy-soldiers or in the case of “Eclipsed” girl soldiers.
I don’t know which is more frightening. They both are. And while there is no gratuitous violence The audience is as trapped by Ms. Gurira’s gripping, horrifying play as the characters are in the hovel of their lives.
I cannot praise “Eclipsed” highly enough. Danai Gurira, whose work I have been following since her NYU Grad Acting days, both as a powerful actress and an equally powerful writer, here fulfills her promise with the masterpiece of “Eclipsed.” I thought “The Humans” was the Best New Play on Broadway this year, but it has now been eclipsed by”Eclipsed.”
And I expect the magnificent Lupita Nyong’O to blaze her way through even more awards this season. In the theater,this time. What she is called upon to do in this horrendous,difficult,powerful role of The Girl, is something so complex and dark, and at the same time innocent and, yes, even hopeful, that awards will be continued to be strewn at her like bouquets.
The rest of the five person, all female, all Black cast is remarkable, too. Pascale Armand, Saycon Sengbloh, Zainab Jah and Akosua Busia. When have we ever seen an all African-American, all female final bow on Broadway?
When have we ever seen a multiplicity of roles for Black actresses like this? I’ll tell you when. Never. Once again, as she did with “12 Years a Slave”, Lupita Nyong’o continues to make racial, and in this case, theatrical history.