Students give voice to alumnus Danai Gurira's 'Eclipse'

By Michael Richter

This Friday Macalester will host a staged reading of the play “Eclipsed,” which tells the story of five women during the Liberian civil war. The play premiered last fall in Washington D.C. and was written by Macalester alum Danai Gurira ’01. The student organization “Afrika!” is sponsoring the event. Gurira’s inspiration for the play came from a picture in The New York Times of female Liberian soldiers. While the play stays true to the realities of the conflict, it focuses more on the experience of women forced into difficult choices. Her characters are wives of a rebel warlord who forces them to live in a small metal shed at his army base. The play focuses on the relationships between the wives and the impact the conflict has on their lives.

Despite the harrowing things the women go through, Gurira manages to keep a hopeful tone. In his review of the play’s premier, Peter Marks of the Washington Post wrote that “‘Eclipsed’ is neither depressingly bleak nor oppressively sober. It’s a surprisingly vivacious portrait of helplessness of the entirely human impulse to adapt, to get by even when there’s little hope life will get better.”

The play will also mark Gurira’s first collaboration with Macalester since her graduation. While she was born in the U.S., Gurira was primarily raised in Zimbabwe, where she lived until she graduated from high school. After receiving her degree in Psychology from Macalester, she earned an MFA degree in acting from New York University. Her first major role came in the play “In the Continuum,” which she co-wrote with fellow actress Nikkole Salter. The play explores how AIDS impacts two women living parallel lives in Los Angeles and Zimbabwe. She also starred in the 2007 movie “The Visitor,” where she plays an illegal immigrant living in New York City.

While Gurira is directing the production, support has come from a number of campus resources. Academic Programs, Alumni Relations, the Provost’s Office and the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship have all contributed to the reading. Harry Waters and Beth Cleary of the Theater and Dance department have also helped to direct the student performers.

The reading of “Eclipsed” will take place in the Weyerhaeuser Chapel at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 26. A post-show discussion with Gurira and a small reception sponsored by Alumni Relations will follow the performance. The event is free and open to the public.