Michael Mottern: Theater Review
The Subversive Theatre Collective, on March 8, premiered their production of the “subversive” play “ECLIPSED,” a play written by Danai Gurira, about the “women’s struggle” in the Liberian Civil War in 2003, at the Manny Fried Playhouse in Buffalo, NY, and taking place on International Womens Day, a day that honors women’s struggles in the world. During the theaters’ seasonal “Black Power play series,” that most likely will be a radical play that pushes the envelope, and “where dissent takes center stage…” All at a little playhouse in north Buffalo where the freight elevator that used to carry the Pierce Arrow car, now takes people up to the 3rd floor to the theater inside the old Pierce Arrow building, parallel to the Belt Line Railroad, and north of the Pan-American festival site.
When Americans think of the country of Liberia, they tend to think only of the Garveyites of the “Go Back to Africa Movement” and was for a long time all Americans knew about Liberia, and its connection to the United States. Most importantly between the years of 1822 and 1847, the country eventually declared its independence from the U.S. in 1862, but we forget that over a hundred and fifty years ago Liberia was the catalyst for the Pan-African Liberation Movement during the end days of European colonialism.
A former territory of the United States, Liberia was re-settled by former enslaved Africans before and after the American Civil War as well. In the Bible the noun, “Exodus,” which can be categorized as a mass movement of people, moving out of bondage and brought to the promised land, and was a very real thing to people like African Americans that were once chattel slaves in the United States.
By 1864, we see this in the study of Lincoln and Frederick Douglas, when the president politely informed Mr. Douglas that African Americans in the United States will always be treated as second-class citizens and suggests instead a mass Exodus to what is now modern-day Nicaragua and Liberia. This is something that the all-female cast of five can relate to. A small piece of American history because most African Americans have roots mostly from places, like Nigeria, South Africa and Liberia. In fact, the Liberian flag is the closest thing to the U.S. flag (as seen on the stage) in the world and is a part of the American experience to name a few.
The set design of the play was awesome, and we have to say good work on behalf of Dan Toner, J. Tim Raymond, and the stage manager Sara McDonnell. The cast was so good, not only did they get into the drama, just the set alone makes it feel like you are there in a women’s compound in Liberia ran by paramilitary warlords and thugs. The play deals with a variety of sensitive issues like, civil war, rape and incest, human trafficking, slave labor, and just plain barbarism. The women are not even labeled by name but by number, all numbered except one, the character Rita played by Davida Tolbert, #1, played by Janae Leonard, and #2, played by Shawnell Tillery, a female Rebel Soldier trying to recruit young girls in to armed conflicts etc. etc.… And it’s brutally chilling with even the absences of a male warlord in the play, only each woman pointing to themselves by number, indicating to the audience that they were next in line to be sexually assaulted by a general in the (L.U.R.D.), Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy paramilitary compound.
If rape and child soldiers weren’t bad enough, there was the issue of illiteracy. In war torn Africa, schools were few and far between and no one could read, accept the character #4, “The Girl” played by the exceptional actress and Performing Arts alumni Nina Brown. Awkward at times with the tense subject matter, but also funny as well. In the play the only book they had to read was a beat-up version of the Starr Report about the affair between Bill Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, being read out loud by Nina’s character and getting a big chuckle from the audience. If Nina’s performance can give the audience a good bunch of laughs, to me it was Davida’s character, the humanitarian “Rita,” that gives us hope for a better future. So, if you are in the Buffalo area it is a play you are not going to want to miss… One woman in the crowd was crying and the audience was very diverse.
After the Sunday matinee, there was a subversive talk after the show and a lot of people actually stuck around to listen to what the actors had to say about the play, all facilitated by an actress that was there tabling with Planned Parenthood before the show. I hope as many theater goers will get to see this magnificent play; it is one you are not going to want to miss. Be advised there is lots of mature subject matter and might not be suitable for young children. The play is running on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 PM and a Sunday matinee at 2:30 PM thru March 29th, 2020
I give this play 4 and ½ Stars out of 5