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Academy Award-winning Queen Lupita Nyong'o is set to make her New York stage debut this fall. Nyong'o will star Off-Broadway in The Public Theater's upcoming production of Eclipsed, a 2009 play by actress and playwright Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead's Michonne and the invaluable star of Andrew Dosunmu's Mother of George). Directed by Liesl Tommy, who also staged the play's premiere at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Eclipsed is billed as a "feminist reading of the Liberian Civil War, a war that was ended by women." Yes, please.
It's profoundly disappointing but all too unsurprising that Nyongo'o has been absent from our screens for a full year after winning one of the most deserving Best Supporting Actress Oscars, ever, for her heartbreaking feature film debut in Steve McQueen's 12 Years a Slave. Not that Nyong'o hasn't been busy: she had to turn down that thankless social worker role that the similarly under-appreciated Naomie Harris got saddled with in Southpaw in order to film her motion-capture role in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. She also has a plum voice role in Jon Favreau's upcoming Jungle Book remake for Disney. More exciting, though, is Nyong'o's next major role in the biopic Queen of Katwe, another Disney project about the life of Phiona Mutesi, a young, Ugandan world chess champion. The film teams Nyong'o (who plays Mutesi's mother) with a prolific and pioneering international filmmaker (Monsoon Wedding helmer Mira Nair) and and unbeatable co-star in the form of Selma's David Oyelowo, who is set to play Nyong'o's leading man in an upcoming, Brad Pitt-produced film adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's extraordinary and expansive novel Americanah as the estranged Nigerian lovers Ifemelu and Obinze. Nyong'o is attached as a producer on that film as well and I can only dream that securing Oyelowo's involvement was Nyong'o's way of helping lure Ava DuVernay to these proceedings.
Those of us who fell so hard for Nyong'o during the 2012 awards season can only hope that the wider arc of her career will be filled with all the tony parts and prestigious projects that any young, Yale-trained, and Oscar-winning actress would normally be afforded. Hollywood has almost inarguably failed Best Actress trailblazer Halle Berry and notoriously "blackballed" Mo'Nique post-Precious. But they've certainly cozied up to Octavia Spencer in recent years and the opportunity still exists to do right by Nyong'o, who's one of contemporary cinema's most promising acting forces and a certified fashion icon.
In any case, it's reassuring to have a platform like the Public through which an actress as vibrant as Nyong'o to test out all the tools and talents that Hollywood can only make occasional time for. (Nyong'o's preceding Best Supporting Actress sister Anne Hathaway recently headlined Grounded, a one-woman piece about a troubled drone pilot, at the Public this past spring.) Eclipsed looks to become one of New York's key arts-and-culture events, not least because it is the rare project in any medium to be acted, written, and directed by women. And, at this point, there are millions of filmgoers who are more than ready to follow Nyong'o down whatever road she travels. In purely imaginary terms, it's tantamount to Meryl Streep, a fellow Yale alum, deciding to ditch Hollywood and do an Off-Broadway play a year after winning her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer in 1980. Nyong'o has the potential to reach such excellence, if the opportunities are provided. Because yes, she is that good. And there's no better time than the present to remember and act on that.
Previews for Eclipsed begin September 29th. The play will run at the Public through November 8th.