Theatre Review: A man who is not a man – Bolanle Austen Peters’ Man Enough

It is almost impossible to navigate the great wide streets of the Internet these days, without coming across the hashtags #MenAreScum or #MenAreTrash.

These descriptors have been adopted to label the range of toxic behaviors – from little white lies to more grave offences like infidelity and domestic abuse – that are frequently demonstrated, although not exclusively by the male folk.

Men may be badly behaved. But instead of applying a paint brush to tar the entire community or committing to listing a retinue of offences, Man Enough, the new stage play written and directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters seeks for some clarity and depth.

Today’s man was once a boy. And if it is the society’s responsibility to socialize children, what are the lapses that has led to generations of dysfunction? Who is responsible for inculcating values into children? What kind of messaging are we as a society programming and to what extent have women been enablers, long before they become victims of masculine toxicity?

There is certainly plenty of blame to go round and Man Enough outlines some of these. Deploying monologues, music and a free-flowing narrative, Man Enough stars Gideon Okeke, Ayoola Ayolola and Moshood Fattah as a trio of men, at different stages of their lives and from different economic strata who must navigate the minefield of adulthood. The constant challenges each one is facing, throws up existential questions and forces all of them to process a world of emotions while grappling with their identity at the same time.

Thino (Moshood Fattah) is having the worst luck. He works a dead-end job where he is exploited by an Indian expatriate and his Nigerian manager. Whatever he makes in terms of earnings is sucked immediately by the black tax. Robbed of dignity and starved of genuine human affection, Thino relies on religion to get by the daily drudgery that is his life.

His best friend, Onyilo (Gideon Okeke) is a family man and small-time producer seeking funding for his next production. His challenges at work are beginning to creep into his home, as he struggles to keep up with the bills that will keep his family afloat. He is hopeful of receiving a lifeline from the wealthy Bruno (Ayoola Ayolola), but ends up in a toxic triangle that also involves the man-eating Suzie (Tana Adelana), who is unhappily married to Bruno.

In a marked departure from the lavish mise-en-scene that usually accompanies spectacles from BAP Productions, Man Enough is considerably muted, relying instead on the use of space and the strength of the actors’ delivery. The actors rise to the challenge, adopting the skin of their individual characters and projecting enough empathy.

Man Enough has interesting things to say, especially about what it is to exist as a man in contemporary Nigeria. It traces the expectations that society places on men and contrasts this with the privilege that is simply theirs for the taking. The central trio work well together as a unit and play off each other as they turn privilege into beautiful lamentation. The female characters aren’t as thoughtfully fleshed out, but Tana Adelana has a blast playing the liberated Suzie, who refuses to engage in anything less than equal terms while dealing with men.

Man Enough isn’t quite subtle and wears its messaging loudly – the actors mention ‘’man enough’’ about one million times. But it has good intentions and breakthrough sublime moments, that not only pack a punch, but also deliver moments of sober reflection. There is a now familiar – for BAP productions -dependence on pop music that gets the audience moving sure enough, but does not quite blend in with the production’s high-minded ambitions.

However, as a whole, Austen-Peters is able to knot her various influences into a tidy, surprising resolution. Ever wondered what it is like being male and Nigerian? Go see Man Enough to get a full measure.

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