A few weeks before the March 6 opening of Eclipsed on Broadway, playwright Danai Gurira and star Lupita Nyong’o took a break from rehearsals and sat down to chat with EW. The play – harrowing, heartbreaking, with glimmers of humor – tells the story of four captive “wives” of a rebel officer during the Liberian civil war. The longtime friends discussed the show – directed by Liesl Tommy and costarring Saycon Sengbloh, Pascale Armand, Akosua Busia, and Zainab Jah – and the power of trust and sisterhood.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did you get the idea for Eclipsed?
DANAI GURIRA: I read a newspaper article in 2003 about Black Diamond, a revered rebel soldier. I found her fascinating. I grew up in southern Africa, but I had never seen a depiction of an African woman like her—that began the journey.
LUPITA NYONG’O: What I love about Danai’s play is that it invites you in. So you may not have known anything [about Liberia or its civil war] when it begins, but the play welcomes you into this compound. You learn something very deep. You’re shocked, your mind is open, and your heart is broken. Where you may have known facts, now you have feelings.
When did you two first meet?
NYONG’O: At the Obie Awards in 2007. She’s an African artist so I was aware of her and had seen her work in The Visitor.
GURIRA: Yale and Tisch were fighting over her [for their graduate programs], and Tisch had assigned me the job to –
NYONG’O: Woo me!
GURIRA: [Laughs] To encourage her to make the right choice. But we knew we were in trouble, and Yale won.
NYONG’O: And then the first role I was assigned when I got to Yale was as an understudy in Eclipsed. One of the things I had been coming to terms with in choosing which school I would go to was the fact that I would be doing a lot of Eurocentric work. Then I arrive from Kenya and I get this incredible, groundbreaking Liberian play. It was manna from heaven! I made a promise to myself: I have to do this play one day.
So how did the 2015 run at the Public Theater come together?
GURIRA: Lupita emailed me and said, “Let’s do this.” I was like, “Uh, of course!”
NYONG’O: Every time I saw her I’d say, “I want to do Eclipsed!” I was hungry to be back in a rehearsal room and to create a story with a group of artists.
GURIRA: I saw that she mentioned it in her first Vogue cover story, and I thought, Oh, she really does want to do it!
How has the play evolved as it’s moved from off Broadway?
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SOURCE: EW – Sara Vilkomerson