The U’s ‘Eclipsed’ Brings Dark Stories into the Light

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Erin West

‘Eclipsed’ by Danai Gurira made its Broadway debut in March of 2016. Now the University of Utah brings ‘Eclipsed’ to life in a performance on par with the professionals. The cast and crew elevate the performance further with rich symbolism, gentle empathy and harsh truth.

Taking place in an army camp in Liberia, ‘Eclipsed’ tells the story of five women caught in the crossfire of the tail end of the Second Liberian Civil War. “A driving force behind the resolution of the conflict were the women of Liberia,” said director Stephanie Weeks, “who came together because they were tired and angry at what war was doing to their country.”

The show begins without warning. Actors come and go on stage, fully in character; pieces of the set and props are brought on, all while the audience is being seated. This speaks volumes about how much we are willing to pay attention to stories we perceive as small. The five women of the show then come together and begin—or rather, continue—the show with stylized movement, singing and dialogue.

There is not one weak link among the cast of this show. McKenna Jensen, who has performed with the U before, delivers a strong performance as Helena, playing contrasting roles of mother and child—one who knows the harshness of the world but has yet to learn of its beauty. Jensen juggles these opposing forces of Helena seamlessly, allowing the audience to feel the strength of the character as well as the vulnerability.

Madelaine Lamah makes her U debut as Maima, a tough soldier seeking profit from war. Lamah handles the harshness of this character beautifully, while still reminding us that Maima is simply a human looking to survive. Playing a character as abrasive as Maima is no easy feat but Lamah handles it with ease.

Terryn Shigg offers some much needed comedic relief in the role of Bessie, a fast-talking and materialistic 18-year-old, who just so happens to be pregnant. With quick quips and even quicker stories, Shigg brings this humorous character to life while sprinkling in moments of fragility.

Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin graces the university stage with her performance of Rita: a strong peacekeeper and an even stronger mother. Rita is searching for her daughter. Darby-Duffin gives her all in her portrayal, showing the audience the emotional connection between herself and Rita, and giving Rita a voice that carries for miles.

Last, but most certainly not least, Darby Mest delivers an exquisite performance of The Girl. With a full connection to her body and her voice, Mest can’t help but embody The Girl in a manner that rips the heartstrings out of the strongest audience member.

Not only is the cast phenomenal,  but the design crew and direction is carefully thought out and well-executed. Michele Collins, Shea Madson and Megan Branson bring Liberia to Studio 115 through simple and powerful lighting, sound and set respectively. Transitions are beautiful and also help move the story forward rather than pausing it. Kerstin Davis’s costumes deliver powerful messages through subtle symbolism, and Lesli Spencer provides props that are realistic and purposeful.

Stephanie Weeks takes all of these wonderful contributions and fuses them into a show full of hope, despair, pain and truth. “Often when we talk of prisoners of war we talk about the soldiers who have been captured, tortured, and killed,” Weeks explained. “Rarely do we talk about the women and children who are also in the trenches and are, in fact, prisoners of war themselves…trapped by their circumstances. So how and why do we imprison the women who gave us life and nurtured us?”

‘Eclipsed’ is playing in Studio 115, located in the Performing Arts Building on campus. The final shows take place March 9-11 at 7:30 p.m., with an additional matinee performance on March 11 at 2 p.m. You can buy tickets by following this link: https://tickets.utah.edu/events/the-uofu-theatre-department-presents-eclipsed/, or by purchasing at the door. Either way, this is a show you don’t want to miss.

h.oliphant@ustudentmedia.com

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