by Wilfred Okiche
How do you present anew a play that has become a cultural phenomenon, adapted in 50 languages and performed in about 140 countries (Nigeria inclusive)? Since it’s arrival in 1996, Eve Ensler’s award winning succession of monologues celebrating the female nether region has become larger than life, translated to television and spawned it’s own V-Day, a movement that has raised over $75million for the struggle against woman violence.
For the folks at the Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), owners of the exclusive rights for the Nigerian franchise, relating the play to the Nigerian environment was imperative. After recording hundreds of interviews with women and girls across Nigeria and Liberia, they put their faith in first time production outfit, Make it happen production company headed by the award winning stage actress Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju.
Ms Akindoju then gathers the finest of stage and screen talent, (some of whom took part in the 2008 and 2010 productions); an impressive roster that includes the veteran Taiwo Ajai Lycett, versatile Iretiola Doyle, accomplished Bimbo Akintola and returning Dakore Egbuson Akande.
Directed by Ifeoma Fafunwa and performed at the Agip recital hall of the Muson Center, Onikan, Lagos V-monologues (2013) does not waste any time playing at the gallery. Brutal, unrelenting, heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting, it strings together monologues and ensembles from a peerless cast and delivers a dizzying sucker punch.
Men brave enough to attend the sessions might have found themselves a bit discomfitted by all the stored estrogen discharging in torrents. See the men in this production, mostly unseen but looming large are the worst kind of men. There is the Northerner in ‘Baby’s baby’ who acquires a child bride and leaves her frail body with child, condemning her to the stigma and shame of VVF. There are the soldiers from the civil war who repeatedly rape a young idealistic female whose only crime was daring to believe in her land of the rising sun. Another generously donates his wife to their August visitor who has carnal knowledge of her while another bows to an obnoxious custom and stands by helplessly as his daughters’ genitals are painfully mutilated. The only good men here are weak, helpless or dead. There is a brief window period when the women come together to shout out the ‘good men’ out there but even that is forced, it is glaring that is not the play’s intentions.
The women and their vaginas are the main thrust and the first half of the session has the women as victims; innocent, ignorant and idealistic but victims all the same. Victims of society and sociology. They come at you with the tears, the pain and anguish of the oppressed. And they come hard. It is visceral, raw and scathing. Apart from a dignified performance by Bimbo Akintola in ‘August visitor’ where she portrays a wife who wants no sympathy from her audience, only the chance to narrate her story, the first half is predominantly a pity party. A bitter and sobering expose on the lot of millions of women across the country.
Biola Segun Williams kicks off the emancipated woman’s theme in the well received ‘It was my money’ and the other interpretations of the female psyche follow. The vagina is then cast as object of worship, figure of power and pathway to redemption.
The actors give it their all, telling their stories with their voices, bodies, facial tics and all the love stored in them with not a one falling short. Each of the ladies gets her own moment to burst out and shine. Taiwo Ajai Lycett is statuesque and delightfully flirty in ‘Maintenance culture’ as she narrates the long process to loving and harnessing the power of her vagina.
Dakore Egbuson Akande in the confounding ‘Re-vulva’ brings raw virile energy as the goddess like temptress, bringing men to their knees and making them see red. She is at once priestess and slave, writhing sensually to the beat of the African drums.
Lala Akindoju has her ‘Jenifa’ moment in ‘Woman traffic’ as the abused innocent, forced to grow up but defiant and unwilling to become enslaved to her circumstances and Iretiola Doyle adopts a credible Hausa accent in the teary ‘Baby’s baby’.
It is hard to stand out in a cast this accomplished but Omonor Somolu achieves the near-impossible and in her two monologues, raises the bar and gives an indelible account of her talent. First as a Christian sister navigating her first orgasm in ‘Songs of praises’ and then as a battered wife who fights back in ‘Family meeting’. She is probably the one performer you will remember long after.
The synchronous use of lightning and tribal drums provided by the Squad one production was pitch perfect, supporting the actors and helping deliver impact. Stage management was timely and everyone involved shone brightly. The language switches from poetry that sings to gutter language vulgarity that jars and the scripting is wondrously elevated.
The attempt at being up to the minute with ‘A woman’s best friend’ may have boasted some Suarez- biting comic interlude but the whole sketch was unnecessary and played like filler material. With it’s excellent cast, unmatched delivery and superb production, Miss Akindoju and team have put out what has to be the theatre going experience of the year.
The role of the arts is to educate, entertain and illuminate lives at the same time provoking thought, sparking dialogue and offering solutions where possible. This production of ‘V-monologues’ does all these and then some. One would be hard pressed to find any other artistic medium that serves all these in one platter.