REVIEW: Eclipsed (Northlight Theatre)

  
  

Fighting for decency, if not dignity

  
  

Paige Collins (The Girl) and Alana Arenas (Helena) in Northlight Eclipsed

  
Northlight Theatre presents
  
Eclipsed
  
Written by Danai Gurira
Directed by Hallie Gordon
at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie (map)
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $30-$45  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Written in 2009 and featuring an all-female cast, this trenchantly topical drama brings to death—and life—the Liberian civil war as seen—and, more crucially, felt–by its most blatant victims/victors. These are women, specifically the four “wives” of a rebel officer in 2003. All but imprisoned in a compound in Bomi County, these polygamous Penelope Walker (Rita) and Alana Arenas (Helena) - Eclipsed at Northlightspouses of a commander of the LURD faction have managed to find a “separate peace” despite the bloodshed and the loss of everything that used to be normal.

Their survival strategies suggest many more coping mechanisms than the specific stories of four wives and the female peacekeeper who visits their bastion to offer them a way out. Hallie Gordon’s powerfully present staging keeps it so real (alas, even in the accents) that the intermission seems a rude reminder that it’s a play after all.

Helena (Alana Arenas, with the dignity of a demigoddess) is the #1 wife, too comfortable in her lockstep reliance on the unseen “husband.” Tamberla Perry is fire and fury as Maima, the second concubine, who has become a soldier in her warlord’s band and finds in her rifle the only strength she can muster in this misogynistic mess of an army camp. As Rita, the constantly pregnant third member of the harem, Penelope Walker finds a kind of security in her sheer fecundity.

As “The Girl,” the newest wife (#4) and still virtually a girl, Paige Collins is heartbreaking as the most innocent victim. Gradually this recruit, who entertains the others by being able to read about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (to them, his #2 wife), is seduced by Maima into becoming a killer herself, looting clothes and jewelry from the unfortunate bystanders she exploits. She can no longer remember what her mother looked like but, clinging to what memories remain, renames herself “Mother’s Blessing” as a kind of reflexive homage.

Finally, there’s Bessie (Leslie Ann Sheppard), the odd woman out. An educated business woman searching for her missing daughter, she is now a
Red Cross peacekeeper who’s trying to broker a cease fire with the constantly shifting rebel factions. More directly, she offers the women a chance to remember their past—before rapes and murders became a way of death—and even contemplate a future.

        
Leslie Ann Sheppard (seated), Alana Arenas (standing) - Eclipsed Paige Collins (The Girl) in Eclipsed at Northlight Theatre Paige Collins (The Girl) and Alana Arenas (Helena) in Northlight Eclipsed 2
Paige Collins, Alana Arenas, Tamberla Perry, Leslie Ann Sheppard - Eclipsed Leslie Ann Sheppard, Alana Arenas, Paige Collins - Eclipsed at Northlight Theatre

Interestingly, it’s only at the end of Eclipsed, when the rebels’ sour victory against the thuggish Charles Taylor (currently being tried for war crimes and human rights abuses) leads to a king of peace that we even learn the real names of these interrupted lives. It’s heartbreaking to watch these four “Mother Courages” give up all spousal rivalries, break their wartime habits, and try to assume something like civilian lives. (well, not all succeed.)

What are they fighting for? They never really know. What matters is the sisterly solidarity that compensates for so much austerity and adversity. The sheer range of the characterizations never registers more than in the scene where, stage right, Maima is showing The Girl how to shoot a gun, while, on the other side, Bessie teaches Helena how to write the letter “A” in the sand.

So much of humanity lies between the literal sides of this stage.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Alana Arenas, Penelope Walker, Leslie Ann Sheppard, Paige Collins - Eclipsed

Extra Credit:

     
     

     
     

Artists

Cast

Alana ArenasAlana Arenas (Helena) recently appeared in The Etiquette of Vigilance and The Brother/Sister Plays at Steppenwolf and The Arabian Nights at Lookingglass Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Kansas City Repertory Theater.  She joined the Steppenwolf ensemble in 2007 and created the role of Pecola Breedlove for the Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of The Bluest Eye, which also played at the New Victory Theater Off-Broadway.  Other theatre credits include The Tempest, The Crucible, Spare Change and The Sparrow Project (Steppenwolf); Black Diamond (Lookingglass); Eyes (ETA); SOST(MPAACT); WVON (Black Ensemble Theater); and Hecuba (Chicago Shakespeare Theater). Television and film credits include The Beast and Kabuku Rides.  She is originally from Miami where she began her training at the New World School of the Arts.  Alana holds a BFA from the Theatre School at DePaul. 

Paige CollinsPaige Collins (Girl) is excited to be working with Northlight, where she just recently understudied A Civil War Christmas.  Around Chicago, she’s been seen most recently in Hunting and Gathering (Theatre Seven of Chicago) and The Twins Would Like to Say (Dog and Pony Theatre).  She holds a BFA from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she was seen in (Anon)ymous, Necessary Targets, andIn the Continuum.  She’s proud to be working on such an inspiring piece of theatre.  Thanks to everyone at Northlight for making it possible!

Tamberla PerryTamberla Perry (Maima) is thrilled to be making her Northlight Theatre debut on such a profound piece of work, Eclipsed.  She was last seen in Steppenwolf Theatre’s First Look production The North Plan.  Recent credits include the award-winning Brother/Sister Plays (Steppenwolf, BTA Award and Jeff Award); Fedra – The Queeen of Haiti, Black Diamond (Lookingglass); The Overwhelming (Next); She Calls Up the Sun, Blaxploitation 1 and Blax 2: You know we deux (MPAACT, Best Actress BTA Award).  Regional Credits include: Bus Stop (Madison Repertory); Icarus (Lookingglass at the Getty Villa, Los Angeles);The Piano Lesson (Portland Stage Company).  Film credits include Puzzled Love and Tapioca.  Tamberla can also be heard on many national voiceover commercials via radio and television.  She is a proud member of MPAACT theatre!  Yaaaaay GOD.  Hey KD!  Love you Baby Clifford and Ashy!

Leslie Ann SheppardLeslie Ann Sheppard (Bessie) is honored to appear at Northlight Theatre!  Chicago credits include The Hundred Dresses (Chicago Children’s Theater), The Lost Boys of Sudan and The Snow Queen (Victory Gardens), Baby (Metropolis), A House With No Walls (TimeLine), and Harriet Jacobs (Steppenwolf).  Regional theatre credits include the Illinois Shakespeare Festival and the Bristol Renaissance Faire.  She holds multiple certifications as a stage combatant through the Society of American Fight Directors and a BA in Acting from Illinois State University.  She is also a founding company actor, adaptor and secretary for the Suitcase Shakespeare Company.  Thanks to God, family, friends and the folks at Northlight and Gray Talent Group for sharing their love and encouragement.

Penelope WalkerPenelope Walker (Rita) marks her third production with Northlight, where she appeared in Gee’s Bendand bee-luther-hatchee (Black Theatre Alliance Award nomination).  Goodman credits include A Christmas Carol (six seasons), The Story, Crowns and Wit.  Other Chicago credits include The People’s Temple (American Theater Company); Lydia R. Diamond’s world premiere Voyeurs de Venus (Chicago Dramatists, BTA Award nomination); J. Nicole Brooks’ world premiere Black Diamond: The Years the Locusts Have Eaten (Lookingglass); Don deLillo’s Love Lies Bleeding (Steppenwolf); Omnium Gatherum(Next, After Dark Award); Chris T (Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre); The Clink(Rivendell Theatre Ensemble); Shakin’ the Mess Outta Misery (Chicago Theatre Company, BTA Award nomination).  She appeared in a year-long regional tour of Crowns, written and directed by Regina Taylor.  Regional credits include Alliance Theatre, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage and Alley Theatre.  Film credits are Severed Ties and the film short Flowers.

 

Production

Hallie Gordon (Director) is thrilled to be directing at Northlight for the first time.  Her recent directing credits include Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ To Kill a Mockingbird; The House on Mango Street adapted by Tanya Saracho; the world premiere of Harriet Jacobs adapted by Lydia Diamond; and the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which won a Black Excellence Award from the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago and transferred off-Broadway to The New Victory Theatre.  Hallie also directed The Sparrow Project by Melanie Marnich for Steppenwolf’s First Look Repertory of New Work.  She is currently serving as the Artistic and Education Director for Steppenwolf for Young Adults and as the Artistic Director for The Chicago Park District’s Theater on the Lake.  Hallie would like to thank her family for their incredible support, and to BJ and Tim and the entire Northlight staff – thank you for welcoming me.

Jack Magaw (Scenic Design) lives in Chicago and teaches design at both DePaul and Northwestern Universities.  Most recently he designed Low Down Dirty Blues and A Life at Northlight.  Other Chicago and regional theatre credits include Samuel J & K(Steppenwolf); Heroes (Peninsula Players); Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Home and The Mystery of Irma Vep (Court); Funny Girl (Drury Lane Oakbrook); Mauritius (TheatreSquared); She Loves Me, The Old Settler and Picnic (Writers); All My Sons (TimeLine); Evie’s Waltz (Geva), This Wonderful Life (Indiana Repertory); Radio Golf (Pittsburgh Public); Winesburg, Ohio and A Flea In Her Ear(Kansas City Repertory);  Four Places (Victory Gardens) and Love’s Labor’s Lost (Clarence Brown Theatre).  He received Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for Picnic and Bus Stop (Writers), Fences (Court) and Seven Guitars (Congo Square).  Upcoming projects include Cabaret (Kansas City Rep) and Gee’s Bend (Cincinnati Playhouse).  His portfolio website is located at http://www.jackmagaw.com.

Myron Elliott, Jr (Costume Design) is pleased to be collaborating with Northlight for the first time.  His work has most recently been seen in Steppenwolf’s To Kill A Mockingbird.  Other Chicago credits include:  First Look Repertory 2009 (Steppenwolf);Dental Society Midwinter Meeting (At Play Productions & Chicago Dramatists); I Do, I Do and Phantom (Theatre at the Center);Speech & Debate (American Theatre Company); The Clean House, As You Like It and Anna in the Tropics (Aurora University); andKid Sister, Some Girls, This is How it Goes and In a Dark, Dark House (Profiles Theatre).  Other design collaborations include productions with Stages St. Louis, Ohio Light Opera, Cincinnati Playhouse, Indiana Repertory Theatre and Berkshire Theatre Festival.  Myron is a staff member for The Steppenwolf Costume Shop and holds an M.F.A. in Costume Design and Technology from Ohio University.  Thanks and love to E, KF, and P, in that order.

Charles Cooper (Lighting Design) returns to Northlight where he previously designed She Stoops to Conquer and The Chalk Garden.  Recent credits include Around the World in 80 Days (Indiana Repertory and Peninsula Players); To Master The Art, All My Sons, Weekend, Dolly West’s Kitchen, (TimeLine, where he is an Associate Artist); Old Glory, As You Like It, Another Part Of The Forest, Seagull and The Doctor’s Dilemma (Writers’); Curtains (Drury Lane Oakbrook); Of Mice And Men and First Look Repertory of New Work (Steppenwolf); Blue Door, The Defiant Muse, and The Court Marshal At Fort Devens (Victory Gardens); Thieves Like Us (House); Welcome To Arroyos, True West, Top Dog/ Underdog, Speech And Debate, Half Of Plenty, Heritage and Orpheus Descending (American Theater Company); Well and The Overwhelming (Next).  Charles is the recipient of five Jeff nominations and two After Dark Awards.   Current and upcoming projects include Do The Hustle for Writers’ Theatre, Tree for Victory Gardens and Soul Samurai for Infusion Theatre.   Please visit his website at cooperportfolio.com.

Christopher Kriz (Sound Design) works nationally as a composer and sound designer. Most recent theatre credits include the national tour of America Amerique (Jena Company), Lonesome West and The Ruby Sunrise (Gift Theatre), The Madness of Edgar Allen Poe (First Folio), Aiming For Sainthood (Victory Gardens), Thieves Like Us (House Theatre), Lobby Hero (Redtwist Theatre),Master Harold and The Boys and All My Sons (TimeLine Theatre), Brainpeople (Urban Theatre), The Invasion Of Skokie (Chicago Dramatists), Equus (Redtwist Theatre), Dental Society Midwinter Meeting (Chicago Dramatists), Baal (TUTA), Spin (Theatre Wit), and The Hiding Place (Provision Theatre).  Upcoming productions include Madagascar (Next Theatre) and Precious Little (Rivendell Theatre). To hear more of his work, please visit http://www.christopherkriz.com

Rose Marie Packer (Production Stage Manager) is delighted to return to Northlight, where she also stage managed The Marvelous Wonderettes and The Lady with all the Answers.  Other regional credits include Detroit, The Brother/Sister Plays, The Seafarer, Superior Donuts, Tranquillity Woods, the unmentionables, Love Song, The Well-Appointed Room and Last of the Boys(Steppenwolf Theatre); Nixon’s Nixon, The Turn of the Screw and The Puppetmaster of Lodz (Writers’ Theatre); Elmina’s Kitchen, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Black Nativity (Congo Square Theatre); The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged andSylvia (Seaside Repertory Theatre – FL); Looking for Normal, It Ain’t Nothin’ but the Blues, Floyd Collins and A Man of No Importance (Playhouse on the Square – TN); and Funny Girl and The Game (Barrington Stage Company – MA).  A member of Actors’ Equity Association and proud alumnus of Oklahoma Baptist University, Rose also freelances as a Company Manager and Production Manager.

Kristin Leahey (Production Dramaturg) serves as the Resident Dramaturg at Northlight Theatre.  Before joining Northlight, she acted as the Literary Manager at Woolly Mammoth in Washington, DC, where she dramaturged Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play and Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, among others. She’s worked with Ms. Gurira on her trilogy on Zimbabwe and most recently, on the first part of the trilogy, The Convert, for the Goodman’s New Stages Series.  Some of her dramaturgical credits include works produced at the Kennedy Center, Indiana Repertory Theatre, The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, The Goodman Theatre, Collaboraction, Teatro Luna, Teatro Vista, Eclipse Theatre, and A Red Orchid Theatre. She is a Ph.D. candidate at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is a recipient of an Endowed Fellowship. Her publications include articles in Theatre Topics, Theatre History, and Theatre Studies, and she has taught in the theatre department at The University of Texas at Austin and at DePaul University.

Danai Gurira (Playwright) is a playwright and actor.  She was the recipient of a TCG New Generations travel grant for her play Eclipsed, which received premiere productions at Woolly Mammoth, Center Theater Group and Yale Repertory Theater.  She co-created and performed in the award-winning two-woman play In the Continuum, for which she won an Obie Award, the Outer Critics John Gassner Award, the Global Tolerance Award (Friends of the United Nations), a Helen Hayes Award for Best Lead Actress, and was honored by the Theatre Hall of Fame.  On Broadway, Danai starred in Lincoln Center Theater’s production ofJoe Turner’s Come and Gone.  Films include The Visitor, 3 Backyards, My Soul to Keep and Restless City.  She has taught playwriting and acting in Liberia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa, and is currently completing a historical Zimbabwean piece entitled The Convert (a commission with TCG).  She received her MFA in acting from Tisch, NYU.  Danai was born in the U.S. to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe.

All bios courtesy of Northlight Theatre webpage

     
     

One Response

  1. An amazing review! Congrats to the cast and production for this stellar work.

    Just a note…Penelope Walker plays Rita, who is the educated member of the Liberian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Leslie Ann Sheppard plays Bessie, the pregnant Wife #3. You have them reversed in the review.
    -Company Member of Eclipsed:)

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