NEW YORK (AP) — Step into Akosua Busia’s tiny dressing room on Broadway and you walk into a little corner of happy calm.
There’s a small palm tree and some potted plants. The heater is blasting. A pair of white sculptured wings hangs on a wall. There’s a huge poster of a tranquil beach and rolling waves.
The Ghanaian actress decorated it with items from Amazon and a budget of $300. She usually gets this reaction: “Everyone’s like, ‘Akosua, you’re homesick.'”
Maybe, but she’s on a mission: After leaving show business for 18 years to raise her daughter, Busia is back, starring in “Eclipsed,” Danai Gurira’s searing, important play about enslaved women in Liberia’s 12-year civil war.
That Busia is part of such a groundbreaking show isn’t unusual for this royal-born daughter of a Ghanaian prime minister. She’s a novelist, actress, activist and mother to her daughter with ex-husband, John Singleton, director of “Boyz N the Hood.”
Before giving birth, Busia penned the novel “The Seasons of Beento Blackbird,” co-wrote the film adaptation of Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved” and played Nettie in Steven Spielberg’s film “The Color Purple.” In an odd twist, she finds that the “Eclipsed” theater is next to the one showing a revival of “The Color Purple” musical (she gives it two thumbs up).
In “Eclipsed,” Busia plays a visiting peace activist who tries to help women in one compound escape the war zone. Three captives have endured multiple rapes, and one has picked up a gun and become a ruthless fighter.
It’s a wrenching play, and the cast, which includes Lupita Nyong’o, Pascale Armand, Zainab Jah and Saycon Sengbloh, gathers to huddle in a circle five minutes before every show and again backstage afterward to breathe and hum.
“It’s not a show where you can call it in,” she said. “When we’re tired or one of us doesn’t feel good, we say, ‘Wow. We only have to live this for 2½ hours. People lived this for 12 years.'”
Director Liesl Tommy said the show’s creators were having a hard time casting Busia’s role when someone happened to throw out her name. Busia was the Nyong’o of her day, “someone who had this light, this undeniable luminosity.” Busia was retired and living in Ghana. Then they got good news: She was in visiting her sister in New Jersey.
Busia was persuaded to audition for the show.
She found herself in a play in which her character has lost her daughter and been dragged away by soldiers to an awful fate. “It’s unthinkable to me. It’s literally unimaginable to me,” she said.
Busia recalls a terrifying moment in Ghana, when her not-yet-1-year-old child started convulsing with malaria. Busia stripped down and pulled her into a cold shower to try to bring down her temperature.
In the confusion, a maid then rushed the girl to a clinic but Busia didn’t know which one. “I can’t even begin to describe the sheer panic,” she said.
She jumped on a taxi’s hood, hysterical and half-naked, and hurried to three clinics before finding the right one. But the doctor wouldn’t treat the shivering girl until after she was bathed.
“I found myself on a doctor with my hands on his throat,” Busia said. He saw her fear and backed off. They later became friends but the terror never left.
She pours that fear of losing a child into her Broadway role: “Searching for days and weeks on end? Oh my God, I cannot imagine. I don’t know how people ever stop.”
The show marks the first time on Broadway that a cast, director and playwright have been made up entirely of female artists, something Busia calls “astounding.”
She said she’s been in similar situations, breaking barriers by having a mixed-race romance on network TV opposite Anthony Andrews in the 1985 miniseries “A.D.” and being the first black leading lady in a West End play in London in “Gloo Joo” in 1978.
“Every time I go, ‘It cannot be true. That’s not the world I live in. Surely you people jest,'” she said. “Either the entertainment world is so far behind what is really happening or we are so blind to what the reality is — and I’m beginning to be scared that it’s the second one.”
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