Lupita Nyong’o is the new face of Broadway – there’s no way around it. Her new play Eclipsed officially opened last night to raves, and it’s a remarkable achievement. Not only is it the first Broadway play with an all-woman cast, writer (Danai Gurira) and director, but Lupita is all over the show. Lainey wrote about this last month -- click here
for a refresher. Her face isn't just on the marquee. It's everywhere. Her Lancome ad also gets some prime real estate on the back of the Playbill, and even the theatre’s drinks are named after her. It's very much her show and this is all a win for diversity and visibility. Plus, the play is exceptional - gripping, emotional and oftentimes, hilarious, which is not what you expect for a Liberian Civil War drama.
I saw Eclipsed in previews on Saturday night. The trade reviews are dead-on when they describe it as both “captivating” and “savagely funny”. The play profiles the lives of four Liberian women who are fighting to survive at the end of the country’s 14-year-long Civil War. Lupita is “Girl,” a literate teenage refugee who becomes an army base commanding officer’s “Wife #4” in spite of Wife #1 and Wife #3’s attempts to keep her identity a secret. They’re trying to protect her from the life they have reluctantly come to know: being repeatedly raped and having their livelihoods dependent on a man.
The story is a coming-of-age tale full of biting humour as the wives struggle to stay alive. Yes, there are plenty of still-funny Bill Clinton jokes, as that is the only book available to the women at the military compound. All this as Wife #4 is seduced by the spoils of war (clothes, jewelry, life beyond the military base and outside of the C.O.’s reign), even though it comes with some unexpected ethical consequences and choices. Growing up is never easy. Imagine growing up in wartime.
In Lupita’s VOGUE interview from late last year, she spoke about how her experience shooting Star Wars: The Force Awakens was so freeing because you’re “not governed by your physical presence.” Lupita was in Star Wars as Maz Kanata, but we never saw her. It will be the same, presumably, in her upcoming role in Jungle Book, where she plays Raksha.
Eclipsed is very much the opposite – Lupita’s physicality and emotive expressions sell you on her character’s many affecting and disturbing turns. This gives her the chance to show much more of her range, which we last saw on-screen in movies like Non-Stop or 12 Years a Slave, which of course, won her an Oscar.
Audiences have not seen Lupita’s face on the big screen since 2014… but Eclipsed reminds us of the full breadth of her creative and cinematic power. This is one of her most impactful performances to date, and builds more anticipation for when she’ll make her return to live-action movies in Queen of Katwe later this year. Hopefully, with the strength of her work in Eclipsed (and a likely Tony nomination), Hollywood will take notice, and be more willing to put this face front and centre in Hollywood.