by Wilfred Okiche
In March 2013, celebrated theatre cum creative director Ifeoma Fafunwa in conjunction with Lala Akindoju’s just birthed Make it Happen productions and the KIND initiative staged the Nigerian franchise of Eve Ensler’s cult classic, The Vagina Monologues. Titled V-monologues, this adaptation presented true, relatable stories of Nigerian women and featured a peerless cast tconsisting of stage, television and big screen talent.
Ms Fafunwa is back again with her stories of female discrimination and ultimate empowerment, but this time, her production company of choice is iOpenEye and her cast members include Joke Silva, Elvina Ibru and Ufoma Ejenobor. Returning to reprise their roles from the last V-monologues outing are Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Bimbo Akintola, Iretiola Doyle and the routine scene-stealer Omonor.
Hear word which is entirely a synonym for V-monologues is unashamed in its pro-feminist tendencies. It wants to empower the Nigerian woman; by highlighting some of the most troubling cultural and social practices that she contends with day by day. Judging from the response of the audience to some of the most triumphant skits- wild laughter, fist thumping as they urge the women on stage on to go on and get their due- they succeed mightily. There are also moments of sober reflection and unflinching brutality, particularly in the first half of the play. In these cases, the applause is measured, the audience not quite sure of how to respond to the uncomfortable scenes played out on stage. Zara Ejoh is the rape victim in George, shamed and unsure of how to seek for help, or revenge. Rita Edwards is the Black widow, maltreated by her husband’s relatives and forced to perform unspeakable acts following his passing.
For their willingness to sit through the most disturbing scenes, audiences are rewarded with more feel good fare, where the women are empowered and refuse to stand for any nonsense. Joke Silva gets a resounding response in Landlord, where she plays an illiterate market woman who stands up to her thieving in-laws. Omonor gives her abusive husband, as well as his hawkish family members something to think about in Family meeting. Heavily pregnant but still as feisty as ever, Omonor turns in a bold, engaging performance but leaves her piece de resistance from last year’s V-monologues to Ufuoma Ejenobor. Songs of praise, a hilarious high wire act about a good Christian lady discovering the wonders of her vagina demands deft comic timing and a strong physical presence. Ms Ejenebor gives it her all and pulls it off splendidly but no one who has seen Omonor in the same role would be quite satisfied.
In Maintenance culture, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett gives a matriarchal ode to the vagina, enjoining women of all ages to embrace their sexuality while Dakore Akande is the goddess-like figure, spewing forth words of encouragement to her sisters in the struggle. She isn’t quite the fluid dancer she thinks she is but the throbbing drums and musical back up provided by Squad1 productions give more heft to the act.
Hear Word places much of the blame for the Nigerian woman’s maltreatment on the male folk, who in this case are unavailable to defend themselves. The men are cast as philanderers, rapists, paedophiles and false prophets. But the play does not absolve women themselves of complicity in their predicament. In Girl child, Bimbo Akintola soon discovers-from her fellow sisters none the less- that a male birth trumps a female anytime and lower than an animal is she who has no child to her name. Aseowo is a revealing document on the lengths women go to pull themselves down, subscribing to patriarchal dictations that a successful woman must owe it all to a man. Iretiola Doyle is the northern woman who gives her daughter’s hand in marriage at the age of 10 and stands by, helpless, as the child’s young body (and mind) is ravaged by VVF. Azuka & Temilola is a brilliant sketch interspersing the similar stories of 2 classes of Nigerian mothers (a repackaged Elvina Ibru and Joke Silva) who are sent to the brink after their unmarried daughters hit the big 40. Apparently discrimination has no class.
Playing at the Muson centre in Lagos on two weekends in May, Hear word, with its combination of witty writing, social commentary, pop culture references, decent acting and dazzling star power represents a shining example of committed social advocacy masquerading as prime entertainment. It is a dramatic tour de force that dazzles, befuddles, polarises and then redeems. Make the time for a revival production.