As the first ever all-black-female show on Broadway, Eclipsed by Danai Gurira is a must see. This is historic, people. Buy your tickets now, before the show closes.
And it will close. Soon.
Because as a piece of theatrical art, Eclipsed is wanting. Perhaps it’s the confused sound design - featuring original music and sound by “Broken Chord” (a sound design trio). Perhaps it’s the uneven acting of the ensemble. Perhaps it’s the very unnecessary revolving shack set-design. Perhaps it was…the cast playing up the laughs.
Yes, this is a play about the civil war in Liberia. In which three women are held hostage as sex slaves by a rebel officer. In which the women are raped (off stage) repeatedly during the show. In which young women - in their teens - are forced to choose between being raped and forcing other girls into sexual slavery.
Hm…so, I’m thinking this is a serious show, you know? And while I understand that even the most serious of shows can be light at times, have to be light at times so that people can handle the gravity, this production of Eclipsed went too far in that direction.
The first moments of the play are between two women - one is doing the other’s hair. The other is telling stories and the audience is laughing - are they laughing at the stories or the way Pascale Armand delivered the lines - are they laughing at her accent? Maybe. Then comes Lupita N’yongo’s entrance, from under a rubber tub. Laughs. Ok, I get it. We’re taking an “average” day-in-the-life. But then, the women see someone coming, they hide Ms. N’yongo and stand at attention. Ms. Armand is called out. She leaves with dread. When she returns 10 minutes later, she’s running to a small tub, to wipe her genitals clean with a dirty rag.
Yes. Laughs. Now, I have to concede, Ms. Armand could have wiped herself down differently. She did it very animatedly, in a rush. But between her behavior and the audiences - what? - embarrassment? - ignorance? - nervousness? - it was the biggest laugh yet. But wait. There’s more. A few minutes later, Ms. Armand is getting her hair finished by Saycon Sengbloh, she’s bragging about how she put the rebel leader “to bed.” (Meaning that he won’t be looking to rape either of them again tonight.) Small titters of laughter at that line.
But when the real laugh comes is after the women see the rebel leader again and stand at attention. This time Ms. Sengbloh is called in to be raped. And as she’s exiting, she turns around and says, “I thought you said you put him ‘to bed’?!” Huge laughs.
I’m sorry, but I didn’t hear anything funny in that line. I heard how it was delivered and I understood why people might find it funny, but I didn’t think it was funny. It was horrifying. It was absolutely abominable. And it was happening right before our eyes to a live laugh track from the audience.
Who was in the audience you might ask? Well, probably not too many Liberian women. It was a mixed crew, the usual New York crowd, foreign tourists, white peopie, black people, other people. Whoever they were, they either really didn’t want to take this very serious play seriously, or they were ignoramuses, or both.
But the real question is why the production was directed and acted with these “laugh lines.” Did the producers feel the show had to apologize for being an all-black-female cast by making it funny? Or was the playwright afraid that the show wouldn’t move uptown if it wasn't light? What kind of theatre world are we in if we can’t have serious shows about serious topics? And I’m not saying there can’t be light moments - of course, we need them. But earn them. And keep them sparse, use only when necessary.
In the end, I am very happy to have supported this historic production and to have seen these actresses, particularly Ms. N’yongo, live and in person. It was politically gratifying to be a part of Broadway history, even if it wasn’t artistically so. Buy your tickets here: www.eclipsedbroadway.com. You'll send the message that we want more roles for black women on Broadway. You can always buy the tickets and not see the show.