Young actress’s breakout performance highlights shattering “Eclipsed”
By Critic Bill Hirschman
The physically and emotionally ravaged Liberian women in Eclipsed are reminiscent of raw wounds with still-forming scabs. When fresh outrages rip them away, harrowing agonies bleed out in a torrent of scathing emotion. Dania Gurira’s script and The Women’s Theatre Project’s production may not be especially subtle; occasionally, it’s so rudimentary as to risk being simplistic. But their ultimately affecting portrait of the intentional dehumanization of people during wartime is a shattering indictment of cruelty, especially violence against women...
But Emanuelle is the find. The Philadelphia native who trained with Richard Zavaglia only has a handful of credits, but that will change if area directors see her in this production. We watch her evolve from a helpless victim to someone determined to escape this hell by any means possible. Then she seems to have hardened into a true believer as she parrots the rebels’ hypocritical party line, then disintegrates when she realizes the depth of her guilt for being part of the oppression, and finally she shows the confusion when faced with a choice of how to live the rest of her life – never letting us forget that this child-woman is 15 years old throughout.
In a long monologue, Emanuelle becomes the audience’s surrogate as she describes her sacrifice of that prisoner to the soldiers to sidestep her own rape. Her face is suffused with terror, not at the act, but at the recognition of her own capability of enabling an atrocity. She and Gurira make us ask ourselves what we would have done.
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Who is Elvire Emanuelle? The young grad who studied acting with Richard Zavaglia stunned audiences at the Women's Theatre Project, more than holding her own against South Florida acting heavyweights such as Lela Elam and Karen Stephens. Set against the ruthless backdrop of Liberian civil war, Emanuelle portrayed a 15-year-old captive — the initially helpless fourth "wife" of a rebel officer — who develops the capacity to kill, over the play's grim and exhausting duration. Her character is the crux of the play's unsettling commentary on the human capacity for violence, and her transformation brings the playwright's frightening ideas to vivid fruition.
We Don't Really Want To Know
By Critic Roger Martin
We cringe in our seats. People don't do this. Not to other people. Not to any living thing. Let's think of puppy dogs and long walks in the rain. Anything but this. But we can't do it. We have to keep watching. And listening. The actors before us are recounting the horrors of life in Liberia in 2003 as the rebels fought the government of President Charles Taylor.
Opening its 2011 season with this show, Eclipsed, artistic director Genie Croft of The Women's Theatre Project has put Karen Stephens, Lela Elam, Elvire Emanuelle, Renata Eastlick, and Carey Hart in the jungle camp of a rebel leader known only as the C.O. Four are his wives, numbered instead of named, and the fifth is the outsider who tries to save them. The wives have been captured when still children, can barely recall their given names and are unsure of how old they are...
This is an excellent ensemble of five good actors handling a tense story about an horrific subject. Written by Dana Gurira, a Zimbabwean born in the U.S., Eclipsed is relentless in its portrayal of the rebel life...
Elvire Emanuelle is the one to watch here. She excels in this piece and that's a hard thing to do when acting with Karen Stephens, Lela Elam, Renata Eastlick and Carey Hart.
Left: Renata Eastlick, Lela Elam, Carey Hart, Karen Stephens and Elvire Emanuelle