By Anote Ajeluorou
Love or relationships across ethnic lines has won big, and continues to win even bigger in modern Nigerian configuration. This is thanks to increasing level of education and the bigger national destiny that ties all ethnic units into one finite whole and, as cultural activist Odia Ofeimun would have us believe, his recent dance drama Because of 1914 makes a case for the undeniable historical fact or tie gluing a disparate people together in one indissoluble union and calls for a need to work out a common destiny as the only way to ensuring politico-economic and even cultural salvation.
It’s against this assured background that Ladoja, a Yoruba, comes crashing into his neighbour’s home, Chief Chibuzor Evans, an Igbo, to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage in the farcical play Yoruba Romance, a PAW Studios production at Terra Kulture last Sunday. The play that saw the audience doubling over with laughter will run every Sunday in October. The play is written by Tyrone Terrence and directed by Kenneth Uphopho.
Ladoja’s (Omololu Shodiya) visit first elicits the debtor-creditor economics between the two men. Ladoja, a cocoa farmer, is wont to ask for credit, but Evans (Patrick Digba) has learnt not to be trusting with his cash, and so suspects Ladoja had come again to ask for money. But Ladoja, who has just harvested his cocoa, has another mission for coming to visit his older neighbor. He wants a wife, and Evans’ beautiful but desperate daughter, Nneka - Ynneka by Ladoja (Ijeoma Aniebor) who feels age is no more on her side at 31, is his choice. Just barely literate, he has problems articulating his desire. But when he does, Evans is relieved he hasn’t come to borrow money. He obliquely tells his daughter that Ladoja is looking for some goods and should help him out.
Somehow, Ladoja and Nneka’s conversation segues on landed property, and Ladoja makes claim to a particular piece of land, which the Evans also has some claims. This sets Ladoja off course, as he begins to assert his claim to land instead of the wife he has come to get. Moreso, he’s too dumb and awed before Nneka to tell her his feelings for her. As the argument for the land rages, Evans, who had stepped aside to let the two lovebirds talk, emerges to find Ladoja, to his chagrin, claiming land instead of the wife he’d come for. A collision course becomes inevitable. They call themselves all unprintable names, and almost come to blows.
When Ladoja leaves in fury over the land matter, and Evans reveals to his daughter why Ladoja had come, Nneka is furious with his father. How could he allow mere land matter to make her miss the one man who has genuinely come to ask for her hand in marriage after he had rejected other suitors, including Musa? But Evans tells his daughter the futility of Musa as a match. Why? He remembers keenly the evils the civil war inflicted on him by the Musas of Nigeria, who hounded him and his Igbo ilk into the forest naked and woe-begotten. How could he allow his only daughter to marry him?
But Nneka is emphatic: he must go fetch Ladoja so he completes his proposition to her! Although she’d told Ladoja she is a sweet sixteen in the heat of the land argument, she now states her real age to be 31, a fact that shocks her father. He goes out to fetch Ladoja, who approaches cautiously. Having been dealt a raw land deal, he isn’t ready for another fight. But inevitably, a fight ensues. Intent now on getting her man, Nneka begins to woo Ladoja, but Ladoja is a man afflicted with shyness and some family disease in the wrong region. He fears Nneka’s nearness would push him into some paroxysm.
When Nneka asks how he would celebrate the communal festival without a wife, with him riding alone on his horse, and Ladoja’s boastfulness about his horse, which Nneka counters by asserting that her father’s horse is the best, set the stage for another fight, unbelievably, about horses! Nneka’s father emerges at the commotion and takes sides, of course, with his daughter. They go through another ritual of fierce quarreling. Ladoja is pushed out, but returns to claim his umbrella and hat. Irritated, Evans threatens to shoot him, and brings his gun. Frightened, Ladoja crashes his head on the door and falls down faint. Afraid he has killed a man, Evans is ready to commit suicide, and when the gun explodes on its own to wake a fainted Ladoja, Evans believes himself to have died and in heaven’s gate and begins to plead his guilt and offers to pay back every kobo he’d ever swindled his fellow man so he could be set free to return to earth.
Sobered by his experience, Evans is determined Ladoja is the man for his daughter. He stops Ladoja from leaving, and joins them together as man and wife in strict economic sense.
Yoruba Romance is a light-hearted comedy that ripples with laughter. It’s a play built on vigorous, comic character sketch typical of the two tribes portrayed, who are locked in what apparently seems trivial combat. Ladoja, spotting fierce, tiger-like scarifications, is loud, comical and is not afraid to enter into a quarrel with his prospective in-law and wife over land and horses! A typical omo-nile (owners of land), Ladoja would not trifle with land; he depends on it for his survival, and unabashly asserts claims to it. He does not mind forfeiting a prospective wife in the process. So, too, is his claim of valour that his horse represents. He sees his horse as the most elegant, and dares his in-law and wife to-be to contradict him. When they do, he defends his horse stoutly.
Evans is the thrifty Igbo man, who measures everything out in terms of goods and money, and is sometimes unscrupulous in his quest for them. His daughter is a piece of good which Ladoja has come to claim, and eggs her on seeing that Ladoja has harvested his cocoa and should now be rich enough to have his daughter. But he will not take insults from such upstart. Laying claim to the land is a sour point for Evans; he is prepared to thwart his daughter’s happiness for it. So, too, is his claim to having a better horse than even the Kabiyesi!
But when push comes to shoves, Evans knows where his heart is. He would not allow Ladoja’s offer of marriage to his daughter pass him by. Just when it seems the intending union is doomed, Evans pulls out his last trick, and joins his daughter and Ladoja’s hand in marriage.
Indeed, if you’re in love with the theatre and desirous of genuine laughter and comedy that will lift your spirit this month, Terra Kulture is the place to go to catch plentiful of it from Yoruba Romance. You’re sure to break a rib or two laughing out loud in the genuine comedy Yoruba Romance offers. It’s vintage comic delivery complete with the power and deftness of stagecraft; something comic jokes can’t give.