- About the Play
- Behind the Scenes
- Photo Gallery
- Audience Guide
Eclipsed takes place in Liberia in 2003, in a rebel army camp during the second Liberian Civil War. The following timeline and articles will help set the context for the circumstances facing the five female characters of Eclipsed.
Read the Blog! Get the inside scoop with Northlight Blog entries specifically related to Eclipsed.
This extensive timeline covers major events in Liberian history, from its inception as a nation to the present.
The following is one of the many interviews with female Liberian Rebel Commander Black Diamond, an iconic figure from the second Liberian Civil War who inspired playwright Danai Gurira in the creation of the story and characters found in Eclipsed.
Liberia In Pictures
In 2004, Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Times was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography for her cohesive, behind-the-scenes look at the effects of civil war in Liberia, with special attention to innocent citizens caught in the conflict. See her work here.
"Victimcy/Girlfriending/Soldiering: Tactic Agency in a Young Woman's Social Navigation of the Liberian War Zone"
This article by Mats Utas was an influential resource for Danai Gurira's Eclipsed. Specifically, the material examines women's survival strategies during war and how they occupied multiple roles (e.g., girlfriends, peacekeepers, mothers, and soldiers) throughout the second Liberian Civil War.
"From helplessness to agency: examining the plurality of women's experiences in armed conflict"
This fascinating article by Medina Haeri and Nadine Puechguirbal argues for the need to consider the plurality of women's experiences in war, including as female heads of households, as victims (and survivors) of sexual violence, as community leaders, and as armed combatants. The treatise examines women's complicated navigation of battlegrounds during multiple global conflicts in Europe and Africa, among other destinations.
|Alana 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 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, and In 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 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 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 Walker (Rita) marks her third production with Northlight, where she appeared in Gee's Bend and 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.
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 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); and Kid 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 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 and Sylvia (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 of Joe 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.
Amid the chaos of the Liberian Civil War, the captive wives of a rebel officer band together to form a fragile community - until the balance of their lives is upset by the arrival of a new girl who can read, and a former captive turned rebel soldier.
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Photo GalleryClick on any image to start the slideshow
Black Theatre Alliance Award Nominations recognize ECLIPSED
BLACK THEATRE ALLIANCE
August 11, 2011
The Black Theatre Alliance, Inc. Awards (BTAA) nominations have been announced, and Northlight Theatre's ECLIPSED has received five nominations. They are:
- The Target Community Relations Award for Best Ensemble
- The Ruby Dee Award for Best Leading Actress In A Play (Drama or Comedy) - Alana Arenas
- The Hattie McDaniel Award for Best Featured Actress In A Play (Drama or Comedy) - Tamberla Perry
- The Hattie McDaniel Award for Best Featured Actress In A Play (Drama or Comedy) - Leslie Ann Sheppard
- The Phylicia Rashad Award for Most Promising Actress - Paige Collins
For a full list of nominees, and to learn more about the BTAAs, visit http://www.btaawards.org
Dignity of women never wanes in 'Eclipsed'
January 25, 2011
By CATEY SULLIVAN Contributor
Liberia's two civil wars have been as much a wars on the country's women as anything else. And to watch Danai Gurira's "Eclipsed" is to understand just how appalling and systemic those brutal conflicts have been.
As slaves of an unseen Liberian warlord, the women of "Eclipsed" don't even have the power of their own names any more. They are only numbers: Wife Number One is no longer desired by the master (who lines the woman up in a daily cattle call before deciding which one will service him).
Wife Number Two is heavily pregnant and certain she will hate the baby when it arrives. Wife Number Four, barely out of childhood, is hiding under a washtub, hoping to avoid rape by remaining unseen, as the drama begins.
You would think that human dignity would be wholly absent in the face of such grim, grotesque oppression. These involuntary "wives," after all, are kept in a one-room shack defined by grimy mattresses and a dirt floor.
But in Gurira's tale of survival amid horror, there is a bedrock of self-worth and decency that illustrates the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit. In the end, "Eclipsed" is a narrative of hope, survival and optimism despite the undeniable harshness of its setting. In telling the story of Liberian women, Gurira also weaves unlikely yet undeniable humor through her dialogue, and in the slaves of a warlord, creates characters of immense strength.
Directed by Hallie Gordon, "Eclipsed" has a narrative that's packed with intense emotion. With a strong ensemble cast, it resonates with authenticity.
The ensemble is anchored by Alana Arenas as Wife Number One, a woman who has been a slave for so long she no longer remembers how old she is. Her opposite, in terms of both demeanor and action, is Wife Number Two (Tamberla Perry), who has picked up a machine gun, preferring to take a chance on the killing fields rather than submit to the warlord.
At the crux of "Eclipsed" is a battle between these two disparate 'mothers' for the soul of young Wife Number Four (Paige Collins), whose shame and loathing at her situation is etched indelibly on her face.
The choice Wife Number Four has to make -- between a life of gunning people down and procuring girls for rebel soldiers to gang rape or one of sexual slavery -- is unconscionable. And Collins makes it blazingly vivid, delivering a late-in-the-play monologue that brings all the horrors of war to the foreground with searing immediacy.
The fifth woman in the continuum of "Eclipsed" is a peacemaker (Penelope Walker) attempting to negotiate a cease-fire with Liberia's warlords, an effort born of her own tragedy.
The cast is uniformly strong: Perry is both frightening and tragic as a hardened, take-no-prisoners soldier whose only attachment is to her assault rifle. Sheppard is a spitfire, a petulant, sassy beauty with a smart mouth and stubborn streak a big as her pregnant belly. Walker brings a sad, inner poise to the businesswoman turned peacemaker.
The piece ends abruptly -- too abruptly and with a pat suddenness that's at odds with the rest of Gurira's complex work. Even so, it's final image of a woman on the brink of adulthood, deciding which path to take, is haunting indeed.
Read the review on PioneerLocal.com
Theater Review: Eclipsed
TIME OUT CHICAGO
January 27, 2011
by Kris Vire
The women of this vexingly lively portrait of atrocity and survival are the sex-slave "wives" of a self-appointed warlord in the long-running Liberian conflict. They call their captor "the C.O.," for commanding officer, and Stockholm-ily refer to one another by their ranks. No. 1 (Alana Arenas), the longest serving, keeps things running domestically and divvies up the plundered gifts the C.O. periodically brings them. No. 3 (Leslie Ann Sheppard), enormously pregnant, complains about her condition and torments the newest arrival, the teenage No. 4 (Paige Collins), who inquires about the absent No. 2.
In this 2009 work, American-born, Zimbabwe-raised playwright Gurira (In the Continuum) draws rich depictions of her subjects' daily lives. They speak of how things will change when the war is over, though none of them really remembers a time before the war or indeed what the fighting is about. The catalysts for change are introduced slowly: the arrival of a book about a recent U.S. leader, which No. 4 reads out loud and which humorously inspires the women; the return of No. 2 (Tamberla Perry), who struck out to become a soldier; and the arrival of an aid worker (Penelope Walker). The latter two respectively take No. 4 and No. 1 under their wings.
What could be a schematic horrors-of-war play is enlivened by Gurira's intelligent muddying of the moral waters as the tension ratchets up in Act II. Director Gordon deftly handles complicated tonal shifts in her gorgeously staged production. Each of Gordon's five excellent actors gets a chance to astonish, but the cornerstones are Arenas's no-nonsense No. 1 and Perry's fiery, misguided No. 2; their final face-off is breathless.
Read the review on TimeOut.com
Men felt but not seen in stark 'Eclipsed'
January 27, 2011
By Hedy Weiss
Men start wars. Women must find ways to survive them. And it is their strategies for survival that are of the essence in "Eclipsed," Danai Gurira's play, now at Northlight Theatre, where director Hallie Gordon and her five actresses, along with master set designer Jack Magaw, have found ways to make the life force palpable.
Gurira's play is about the horrific oppression and brutalization of women during the civil wars that raged in the West African nation of Liberia from the 1980s until 2004. But more than that, it is about how many of these women managed not only to endure, but even to prevail.
Details of the war are expertly spelled out in the playbill, but it is worth noting here that Liberia has a female president now, and that former President Charles Taylor, charged with crimes against humanity, is in the Hague, with a verdict in his trial expected later this year.
Gurira has set "Eclipsed" in 2003, near the end of the war, homing in on a little shack at the rebel army camp where a powerful commander's multiple "wives" (the euphemism for "sex slaves") are confined.
What is most remarkable about this production, in which men are never seen but powerfully felt, is the way it conjures a genuine sense of the women's shared daily life and their fierce instinct for adaptation. Magaw's cutaway corrugated and concrete block set, which might easily have been airlifted straight out of Africa, has a superb sense of place, and the actresses fully inhabit it.
At 25, Helena (the ever-natural Alana Arenas) is the oldest of the wives and, though no longer the favored sex partner, now the caretaker. Bessie (the luminous, deftly comic Leslie Ann Sheppard), still in her late teens, is very pregnant, ambivalent about the baby and worried about her looks. A new arrival, called only The Girl (an ideally smart but guiless Paige Collins), is just a schoolgirl from a big city, and the only literate one among them. Helena tries to protect her from sexual initiation, but to no avail.
Arriving later is Maima (fiery Tamberla Perry), formerly "Wife No. 2," who has rejected the slave/wife role, taken up arms and turned as brutal as the men. She now sets her sights on indoctrinating The Girl. Representing "a third way" of coping is Rita (Penelope Walker), a businesswoman whose life has been devastated by the war. She tries playing the role of official mediator, even if she is largely impotent.
If all this sounds a bit schematic, well, it is. But Gordon has found ways to infuse the production with truth. And with the arrival of a book about Bill Clinton (and his "second wife," Monica), Gurira not only infuses her story with comic relief, but very wittily reveals a gap in cultural perceptions that not even war can alter.
Read the review on ChicagoSunTimes.com
'Eclipsed' at Northlight: Gripping tale needs stronger narrative thread to bind it
by Chris Jones
January 23, 2011
Now surely more than ever, we're blessed with a deep pool of young and profoundly talented African-American actresses who are choosing to make their careers in Chicago.
That perhaps explains why some of the best productions of the last couple of years here have been ensemble-driven shows featuring women like Alana Arenas, Tamberla Perry, Leslie Ann Sheppard, Penelope Walker and Paige Collins, a seemingly guileless newcomer who shot to notice in the Dog and Pony Theatre production of "The Twins Would Like to Say," and whose focus, presence and directness are remarkable indeed.
Hallie Gordon, the director of "Eclipsed," a new play by Danai Gurira about the effect of Liberian Civil War on the women who must service the warlords rebelling against Charles Taylor, has worked with many of these actresses before in her role at the Steppenwolf Theatre, where she runs the Theatre for Young Adults program. She knows how to create well-connected ensembles, and she has built one here.
However, the play in which these actors find themselves does not feel entirely organic. And although Gordon has forged a rich character study of "wives" forced to negotiate their personal and political roles, even as they sit in sexual servitude, the show lacks pace and narrative certainty. This is one of those plays where everything seems to happen off stage and narrative strands feel shoved together. The play needs more direct action, flowing in real time.
First seen in 2009 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, "Eclipsed" is the work of Gurira, one of the two gifted young performer-actresses who created "In the Continuum," a powerful work about women and AIDS that was seen at the Goodman Theatre in 2007.
"Eclipsed" is set in a rebel army camp in Liberia in 2003, where Arenas' Helena (also known as Wife Number One) must both protect and keep in line her fellow "wives," all stuck in a forced harem of shared danger and mutual competition. The other "wives" take different survivalist tacks: Bessie (Sheppard) takes care of her baby and understandably worries about her well-being; the pragmatic Maima (Perry) becomes an armed rebel herself. But much of the play is focused on the youngest of the group, known as The Girl (Collins), who has yet to define herself or her tools of survival, and for whose innocent soul the other wives battle even as she makes her own choices and mistakes.
For much of the first act, the action isn't so far removed from the TV show "Big Love," in that the wives bicker and vie for control and clout. But the tones are very different. And "Eclipsed" most closely recalls the brilliant Lynn Nottage drama "Ruined" in its exploration of how much women suffer when the patriarchal African world, fueled by the way the West generally ignores the African people, puts them in wholly untenable positions.
The great continent of Africa, which has hardly been over-explored in Western theater, is certainly large enough for both of these plays, which are set in different countries. And while "Eclipsed" is no "Ruined," it is at once a worthy, honest and credible piece of writing. There's also much to recommend in this production -- which is bursting with well-rounded characterizations. You can almost feel Arenas' heart burst, and you hear every beat of Perry's angry energy.
Still, when The Girl makes her big move of self-awareness in the second act, you don't fully buy it. Something is missing in its staging -- a sense of inevitability, perhaps, or at least of well-earned narrative progression. This is a production where a full and enveloping world has been forged, but the script needs active help, and the action doesn't entirely throb with all of the dangerous horrors of men and their wars.
Read the review on ChicagoTribune.com
Director Hallie Gordon brings an activist spirit to her work.
TIME OUT CHICAGO
January 13, 2011
BY John Beer
You can hear Hallie Gordon's passionate empathy as she describes, in low tones, a story she discovered while researching Eclipsed, Danai Gurira's 2009 play about the Liberian civil war, which she's directing for Northlight Theatre: "One woman, on her daughter's tenth birthday, these soldiers came in, took her daughter and raped her, then killed her. Then they took all the pictures that the mother had of her daughter and left her with the body.
"You look at that and you ask, How do you survive? If you see humanity behaving this way?"
Posed in an Andersonville café, the question pierces through its comfortable setting. Gordon, 44, answers in part through her dedication to the theater. "The older I get," says the director of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, who's also artistic director of Theater on the Lake, "the more I'm aware of how much damage occurs in this world. I do plays like this. That's my activism."
Grim though the topic may be, it doesn't dampen Gordon's effervescent spirit. "You've got to laugh your way through hell," she says of the women depicted in the play, "or you're not going to make it!" Humor helps her and her all-female ensemble grapple with Eclipsed's darkness. According to cast member Alana Arenas, it's working: "She creates an environment of safety, so the actors can explore some delicate places."
The director, who lives in Albany Park with her husband and two young children, sees her work with young audiences as integral to her activist theatrical vision. Productions such as Harriet Jacobs, The Bluest Eye and last fall's To Kill a Mockingbird invite students to engage complexly with moral and political questions.
They also introduce teens to the theater. Gordon cites actors Michael Patrick Thornton and Gary Sinise as two artists whose own early trips to the theater changed the course of their lives. The same thing happened to her as an unhappy youth in Los Angeles: On Gordon's 12th birthday, she says, "My mom took me to see A Chorus Line. I loved it so much I went back to see it again the same day. I begged her take me to theater nonstop from then on."
She speaks raptly about watching John Malkovich in Burn This on Broadway as a New School student, seeing it five times even though the play itself didn't do much for her. "His performance was just stunning. I remember thinking, This must be what it was like to see Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire."
Gordon's feeling for young people is palpable to Steppenwolf artistic director Martha Lavey. "She has this really authentic resonance with people that age," Lavey says. "I think that's why the department has evolved so gracefully."
To Kill a Mockingbird struck a particularly gracious note; Gordon helmed it to critical acclaim and success among both young and adult audiences. Taking up Harper Lee's novel was daunting business, she says. "If I messed up, I could never look at that book again. I have a framed poster for it in my living room!"
Two steps were key in not messing up. She and her cast, especially lead Philip R. Smith, put aside the iconic film adaptation. "Phil said to me," she recalls, "?‘First of all, I cannot do Gregory Peck.' And I said, ‘I don't want you to do that. We have to make it our own.'" And she found in her own relation to her lawyer father and to her children avenues for understanding the ties between Atticus Finch and his daughter, Scout.
For Gordon, the finest plaudit for Mockingbird may have come from a group of students leaving the theater. "I was standing by the door, and they were all like, ‘I would go see that again!'"
Read the story on TimeOutChicago.com.
'Eclipsed' women of Liberia shine in warPIONEER PRESS
January 13, 2011
By J.T. MORAND Staff Writer
When the sun or the moon gets blotted out, some things on Earth go unseen for a while.
War, in so many ways, causes the same effect.
But playwright Danai Gurira shines light on oft overlooked victims of war -- women -- in "Eclipsed," which runs between Jan. 13 and Feb. 20 at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.
Gurira puts in the spotlight five captive "wives" of a rebel officer fighting in the last six weeks of the most recent Liberian Civil War, which started in 1999 and ended in 2003. They're all vulnerable, but manage to survive and find strength. But the dynamic of the group is upset when a new girl who can read enters the fold.
Gurira, who was born in Iowa, but moved to Zimbabwe with her parents when she was 5, wrote the play after reading a story about female rebel fighters while she was attending graduate school at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. In 2007, she went to Liberia to do research.
"I was inspired to tell African women stories because they're so under-told," she said.
Although Gurira has not experienced war firsthand, she learned of the struggles and victories of Liberian women during her research.
The country "was just wrecked to shreds," she said. "Their (women) light is eclipsed. The beauty is within the title. There is hope because an eclipse is temporary."
Hallie Gordon, who recently directed "To Kill A Mockingbird" for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, is directing "Eclipsed," which premiered in 2009 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington D.C. Other recent credits include directing "House on Mango Street," adapted by Tanya Saracho, the world premiere of "Harriet Jacobs," adapted by Lydia Diamond, and the premiere of Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye," which won a Black Excellence Award from the African American Arts Alliance of Chicago.
"I'm attracted to the underdog and people on the sidelines," she said as her reason for wanting to direct Gurira's play. "What drew me to the piece is the relationship between females. Their humanity is universal."
Still, this is a different experience for her.
"I've never worked on a play that took place in a different culture altogether, not to mention during war time," she said. "I've never had to enter that world at all."
She said Gurira did such a thorough job researching, writing and developing the characters that audiences will have no problem understanding the struggles of these women.
The small cast also adds depth to the characters. Gordon almost becomes a sixth captive wife.
"There's a bonding that happens between the actresses and me," she said. "There's a sense of camaraderie that you can get behind."
Gurira hopes a light will shine on audiences, too.
"I like to bring an intimacy between the West and Africa," she said. "I'd like people to see themselves in African characters, to connect with people they thought were different from themselves and to give voice to women in war."
Gurira likes to point out that Liberia is now a relatively peaceful country that experienced democratic elections and is governed by a female president.
"That was a huge leap," she said. "It's kind of a fascinating thing."
Read the story on PioneerLocal.com