Through Sunday, Aug. 5
The Fruit, Durham

Danai Gurira wrote her Obie-winning drama Eclipsed after a Wall Street Journal photograph compelled her to travel to Liberia in search of women whose lives had been changed by the country’s fourteen-year civil war. She interviewed more than thirty, including Black Diamond, the rebel-forces colonel whose photograph sparked Gurira’s journey.

In this superior Women’s Theatre Festival production, the intimacy director Michele Okoh achieves with an impressive quintet of actors conveys something that, to the American mind, seems nearly impossible: the palpable sense of family three strangers construct after being kidnapped by soldiers to be “wives,” a euphemism for sexual slavery to the commanding officer.

The wartime environment is so coercive and dehumanizing that the women never use their real names, referring to one another instead by their pecking order in the C.O’s favor. As Number One, Zora Umeadi evinces a stern but motherly air, while Daphne Trevathan captures the childish vanity of pregnant Number Three. Though they try at first to hide a bright fifteen-year-old newcomer called The Girl (an energetic Amani Mckenzie), she soon becomes the fourth.

The Girl’s arrival changes things. The only wife who can read and write, she entertains One and Three with stories of movies and news of the changing culture outside the camp. When she draws the unwanted attention of the missing Number Two (Diatra Langford), who’s taken up arms to fight in the cause (and protect herself from further sexual assaults), The Girl must choose between the way of war or the path proposed by peace activist Rita (an assured Me-Me Cowans-Taylor).

The Girl becoming a soldier challenges Mckenzie’s bandwidth as an actor, but the rest of her performance is compelling. Though the symbolism of the struggle for The Girl’s soul gets a bit on the nose in the production’s awkward last moment, what comes before draws us near to these women as they work out how to survive in an all but unimaginable situation.