By Anote Ajeluorou
LABAF 2012 will go down as a memorable festival where stage performance also had a pride of place. Day Two and Three, which ended a fortnight ago, saw two plays, Holy Night and Anatomy of a Woman written by Zainab Jallo and Wole Oguntokun hit the stage at the Food Court, Freedom Park, Lagos, venue of the 3-day festival that celebrated Nigeria’s literary genius.
Performing Holy Night was the energetic Crown Troupe of Africa led by Segun Adefila. As always, Crown Troupe showed why it is one of the performance groups of choice in stage interpretation. With its cast of young boys and girls, Crown Troupe took on a daunting theatric performance and intricately wove its way through the absurdist plot of Jallo.
Set against the backdrop of the senseless wars, killings and crises in Jos, Plateau State, Jallo, through his artistic gaze, set out trying to make sense out of the endless madness that had suddenly seized an otherwise sensible, peaceful people to want to exterminate one another. Juxtaposed against the Jos crisis is the larger crisis of a nation like Nigerian that is struggling to come to terms with its many contradictions, with its people mired in their own personal high dramas and woes.
The Jos crisis has had so many maimed, others killed and many properties lost yet there does not appear to be a solution and end in sight to the bloodletting. In such environment, what rightful legacy can a father bequeath his son, caught as they all are in the throes of an evil that is so despicable?
So, there is nostalgia in lost innocence, the many senseless battles fought to protect phantom boundaries. At the end, there are so many unresolved issues as to the direction to go, with all sides to the conflict holding strongly to their various positions. Not even the salutary hymnal, songs, poetry are able to douse the imaginary battles lines drawn by those to whom life seems so meaningless and only good to be wasted.
BUT there is also another side to the narrative conflict, with a horde of people trapped in a borderless island and living out their insomnias occasioned by their own wrong perceptions of reality. There’s a professor who has lost his sense of reality in the jargon of his intellectual fervour; he also lost his wife to other men with better manhood but would not concede to his sexual disability or impotence.
He is not alone; there’s the lady who is pregnant for a husband she does not love. Hers is the superficiality of misplaced affection and she is not keen on having the baby in hr womb. Another man is one-eyed, but he is a driver and acts out his own peculiar madness, as he cruises along with his passengers in dilapidated roads with many bumps.
Not least is the young man drained of life at 28, who gradually became retarded as the years wear on and is fast becoming vegetable. These individuals have lost out on life’s high road and only manage to hang onto a thread as they are buffeted by the stormy elements that define their nebulous existence.
Jallo’s play, Holly Night is eloquent testament to a fevered condition, which men sometimes find themselves trapped. It highlights the hopelessness that prevails in a dysfunctional state, environment where human potentials are wasted for very flimsy reasons.
IN Anatomy of a Woman, Oguntokun turns the feminist and campaigns for the rights of women. Apparently, his aim is to invest in women’s natural abilities and make them attain their full potentials as human beings capable of taking their own decisions and living life to the full like their male counterparts. Gone are the days when women sat idly by and watched men decide for them or treat them like retarded infants that do not know what they want for themselves.
Armed with good education, women are now masters, or indeed mistresses of themselves, beings that have long come into their elements and are taking the bull by the horns in their sundry achievements in all spheres where men formally held sway. But that position no longer holds true.
And so a sassy young woman, Tito (Eyimite Gold Ikpamwosa) struts onto stage and announces her arrival as a woman ready to take on her world. She tells her audience that the world has long changed for her and her kind but that men keeps thinking the world belongs to them, a sad irony and illusion from which men need to wake up from. Men, she says, are waking up too slowly from the sleep of yesterday, still living in the past where they thought themselves masters and women servants. Now, she says, men need not delude themselves that women don’t like the fine stuffs that make life really enjoyable, which women pleasantly extract from men as yardsticks to measure them.
In Anatomy of a Woman, Tito, a beautiful, educated young woman with a promising job, is set up against three men who think they have a right to her private life and need not consult her first before they unleash themselves on her. There’s the wasteful Mohammed, who, after going off for so long, comes back to claim what he thinks is his rightful woman. He is jobless and full of himself and believes he has some entitlements to claim from prospective employers. Mohammed thinks the world owes him so much for his eccentricities and like most vain young men in the city, he has no qualms living off the sweat of Tito.
There’s also the dashing, upwardly mobile and handsome James, a big player in the financial world and believes with a snap of the fingers, Tito would melt into his arms and be the love of his life. His brashness does not allow him to accord women their right to be so treated as women with enough emotion that needs to be stoked up gradually. James is shocked when Tito throws him, his financial credentials and his fine looks out when he comes singing marriage proposal without the necessary preambles of establishing a relationship with her first. James is humbled by the logic of her argument: there need to be a relationship first so they could get to know each other!
Then comes Chief (Kanayo Okan), an import magnate, Tito’s employer and a widower. Although he nurses feelings for Tobi, he does not know to broach the subject. He pays Tobi well, treats her well jealously guides all her movements. There’s also Tito’s aunt Jebe (Anike Alli Hakeem), who arrives from the village and encounters these three men in her niece’s life. She becomes the match maker and sets about selecting a fitting husband for her beloved niece. But like the three men who believe they have a claim on Tito, auntie Jebe Still lives in the past is not accustomed to modern ways of city women who are now in command of their lives. Auntie Jebe does not know that city women have long abandoned having to marry a man first before allowing love to grow towards the man later. So, she falls into the error of trying to select the richest man for her niece.
Mohammed is a vagrant and doesn’t stand a chance. James and Chief are good enough materials, but she has the extra task of having to convince her niece to make her choice of the two men. When Tito finally picks her way through the three men, she is in a quandary: none of the men is ready to give her space to grow as a woman with immense potentials as she sees fitting for herself. They constitute themselves stumbling blocks that hinder her full development as a human being. Mohammed will not allow her to go abroad to study; James will not allow her to enjoy her promotion by relocating with her to Kenya and Chief is too rich to allow her step out of the house to engage her intellect.
There was a decided connection between the performers and the audience on the Food Court of Freedom Park, where the play was also staged, which made it an instant hit with the audience that identified with it. It vintage Oguntokun as the audience become part participants and commented on every aspect of the performance. This was due to the lead act’s direct approach and appeal to the audience to appreciate her dilemma. The audience even preferred Mohammed to the other two men as choice husband for Tito!
But perhaps, Oguntokun should have engaged a narrator instead of making Tito to both act out her dilemma and be the commentator at the same time. This should have deepened the dramatic impact and not make Tito be the all-assuming character. Nevertheless, it was a great piece that afforded the audience dramatic joy as they bonded with Tito and Mohammed.