Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
Pictured (L to R) Adhana Reid, Sola Thompson, Maya V. Prentiss, and Aja Singletary. Photo by Suzanne Plunkett.
By Naima Dawson
Women are frequently treated as invisible humans. Their voices are censored by centuries of patriarchy. Women have mummified their voices, waiting for time to give them permission to manifest their true self. Throughout history, woman writers had to write anonymously if their work was to be published. When allowed to speak, their sound was stifled. They lacked the authority to tell their stories from a female-centered lens.
The telling of war stories is no different. Seldom do historical stories about war include the voices of women. The effects of combat on women have been negated or minimized on history’s timeline.
ECLIPSED, by Danai Gurira, illuminates the woman’s voice that has been silenced and nullified by pain. It is a play that empowers women and gives them permission to free themselves from the bondage of darkness that has held them captive.
Not many Americans are able to speak fluently about the history of the Second Liberian Civil War, and if they can, I’m sure many are not familiar with the depth of atrocities associated with it. Together, the First and Second Liberian Civil War spanned from 1999 to 2003. It was a violent conflict between rebels who set out to overthrow Liberia’s President, Charles Taylor. Insidious crimes took place during this war. There are too few details about the girls and women maliciously and repeatedly gang-raped by soldiers, and those made into sex slaves. The agony of darkness that the women and girls of this war endured have virtually been silenced. ECLIPSED works to unmask that silence and give sound to their muted voices.
In this play, we never see any men and there are no male views to contribute to the story. There are four women who have become slave wives after being captured by the highest ranking soldier. Each wife has a ranking based on how long she has been held captive during the war. There is Helena (Maya V. Prentiss) who is wife number one, Bessie (Aja Singletary) who is wife number two, Maima (Adhana Reid) – wife number three, and The Girl (Sola Thompson), the fourth wife. They are frequently visited by Rita (Morayo Orija) who belongs to a large network of women peacemakers trying to end the war.
Over the course of the play, we watch each woman struggle to maintain their identity as human beings. They began to question who they have become while in captivity and who they want to be upon their gaining their freedom. We witness in each character how severe trauma can become a disrupter to the shaping of one’s identity.
Each woman is pushing to find a sense of peace within the darkness of their truths. This play gives women the opportunity to grieve for survivors and support their fight to rise again.
Though the play tends toward the sluggish in the first half, the phenomenal acting by Ilesa Duncan’s cast keeps the audience committed. Each actor has planted their spirit deep within their character to create a surreal stratosphere of realism. Voices once silenced are loud and poignant.
ECLIPSED is timely, centered around self-discovery in the midst of trauma, which is a complicated and sensitive subject matter. There is a level of disturbance in this play that forces the audience into further discourse about preserving the woman’s voice. Pegasus Theatre Chicago’s production reminds us that muting a woman’s voice and her journey is to abort her existence.
ECLIPSED runs through November 4th. For more information visit PegasusTheatreChicago.org.