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Frank Theatre’s ‘Eclipsed’ full of pain, heartbreak, warmth and even humor

I could belabor the point for pages, but here’s the simple message about Frank Theatre’s latest production, “Eclipsed”: Go. Danai Gurira’s script is a rare beast, bringing home a faraway and complex conflict — Liberia — through a quintet of fully realized characters.

It’s a show full of pain and heartbreak but also finds time for warmth and even humor as the characters do their best in a horrifying world.

The play opens more than a decade into the country’s civil war and centers on the “wives” of a rebel commander. These are women who have been selected by the unheard, unseen man and who must do his bidding to stay in the safety of the camp. They are, in effect, his slaves.

Each has endured much pain through her experiences, which the women keep mostly bottled up as they try to create a stable life amid the ruins of their country.

Much of the action centers on The Girl, a newcomer who the other wives first try to hide from the CO and then accept into the fold as wife No. 4, with the eldest wife, Helena, taking The Girl under her wing while the other, Bessie, desperately does not want to lose her place.

The Girl is barely in her teens and is desperate to find a better way.

That comes from another of the CO’s wives, Maima, who has left the fold and joined the camp soldiers in the fight. Poised and well dressed, Maima offers The Girl a new world – but one not just full of additional danger, but one that forces her to kill and kidnap, just as she and her family experienced.

This battle becomes the glue of the story, but it is the everyday interactions —from braiding hair to reading a biography of Bill Clinton — that drives the experience. And the fact that their brief happy moments could be interrupted in an instant by the footfalls of their “husband” coming to rape one of them, only makes these parts all the more heartbreaking.

A dynamite cast leads the audience through this minefield of emotions, while Wendy Knox’s honest, in-the-moment direction adds weight to these characters’ situations as they struggle to stay human in an inhuman environment.

“Eclipsed” runs through Oct. 10 at the Playwright’s Center, 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis. Tickets are $20 and $22. For information, call 612-724-3760 or online.

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