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Troublesome History Comes Alive on Two Local Stages

Courtesy of Celebration Arts
Wife No. 1 (Khaya Osborne, right) and Wife No. 3 (Christina Jackson) argue over the spoils of war in "Eclipsed."

‘Eclipsed,’ the current production at Celebration Arts is set in a rebel army camp in Liberia in 2003, but many elements that have put its plot into motion are still going on today. Child soldiers, abduction and rape of girls and those who are barely women, wanton killing, and corrupt governments living off the spoils of war are still with us.

It is especially disheartening that some Africans have gained status above others, only to resort to the same American style of racist denigration, using terms such as “monkey” to refer to the Africans they dislike or mistrust. 

That the play manages to edge toward a somewhat optimistic finale is a singular success.

Written by Danai Gurira and starring an all-black, all-female cast, James Wheatley directs the drama and brings forth the indomitable spirit of survival that struggles within us all.

America’s connection to Liberia goes all the way back to the beginning of the West African nation. It was founded in 1816 by white Americans to deal with the “problem” of too many free black Americans. It may have been the first “send them back where they came from” movement that seems to be rearing its ugly head again.

‘Eclipsed’ takes place in 2003, during the Second Liberian Civil War against leader Charles Taylor. It tells the story of four captive brides of an unseen rebel army general referred to only as the C.O.

The women have names given to them by their parents, but their existence is now defined by their position: Wife No. 1, No. 2, etc. The latest arrival, at the beginning of the play, is The Girl, who will become Wife No. 4. Their lives of bondage and bonding with each other won’t last long as personal dynamics and military crusades create certain turmoil.

How the women decide what their futures will be, what action they will — or will not take – ultimately defines them.

Wheatley, who also designed the utilitarian set, coaxes fine performances from the young women, some of whom have little or no previous acting experience. His pacing of the drama – except for some pauses between scenes – feels exactly right. The women’s African dialect, which can be difficult, is generally spot on.

The cast consists of Khaya Osborne, Christina Jackson, Monique Crawford, Tiffany Nwogu and Tamara Eugene. Osborne, who is the 2019 Sacramento Youth Poet Laureate, is a particular standout as Wife No. 1. Also delivering especially strong performances are Crawford as The Girl and Tiffany Nwogu as Wife No. 2 who has taken charge of her destiny as a soldier fighting with the rebels.

‘Eclipsed’ is performed at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday in July and Aug. 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10, with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays in July and Aug. 3, 4 and 11. Celebration Arts is at 2727 B St. Tickets are $10 Thursdays and $15-$20 all other performances.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 455-2787 or go to CelebrationArts.net.

‘Angels in America’ Ending

‘Angels in America,’ Tony Kushner’s two-part drama is called a “gay fantasia on American themes.” It’s primarily about the HIV/AIDS crisis that took so many young gay men’s lives in the 1980’s and how hypocrisy and homophobia allowed it to spread.

Its final weekend is this Friday-Sunday.

Roseville Theatre Arts Academy presents the play featuring several excellent local actors at 241 Vernon St., Roseville. The two halves will be presented separately, Part One at 8 p.m. on Friday and Part Two at 8 p.m. Saturday, with a double shot on Sunday – Part One at 11 a.m. and Part Two at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $9 to $13.

For tickets or for more information, call (916) 772-2777 or go to RosevilleTheatreArtsAcademy.com.

Courtesy of Celebration Arts

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About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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