A REFRESHING TAKE ON OLA ROTIMI’S 1977 PLAY

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Olarotimi-play

Yinka Olatunbosun

Theatre buffs thronged to the Terra Arena in Victoria Island, Lagos last Sunday. At this home of theatre performances, Ola Rotimi’s Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again was being staged for the second week running. The play, which was first published in 1977, was served with some thematic freshness against the sociological context of the current political climate in the country.

Starring Nigeria’s contemporary theatre poster boy, Patrick Diabuah in the lead role of Major Lejoka-Brown, the plot is just as it was: an ex-military major veering into politics in the era of democracy. With the campaign ambition of “surprise and attack”, Lejoka-Brown is caught in his own web. He has formed marital alliances with three women. Only Lizzie, whom he met as a soldier fighting in Congo is his legal wife. Mama Rashida was the wife of his late brother whom he inherited according to tradition. Sikira, the extremely vocal wife has a very influential mother who is the President, National Union of Nigerian Market Women.

In the comical play, Lejoka-Brown is a clever politician. Putting aside his battle with his party, he is plunged into the domestic drama of Lizzie arriving in Nigeria on short notice. Lizzie has just completed her medical studies in the US but is oblivious of her husband’s other wife. On arrival, she takes the other wives for her husband’s domestic staff but meets with coldness from Sikira, who boasts of high cumulative frequency of sexual encounters with Lejoka-Brown just to make Lizzie jealous.

Lizzie comes to the Lejoka-Brown’s household with some feminist nonchalance. She takes the liberty to dress as it suits her, speak without restraint and play with her husband as though they are equals. Lejoka-Brown’s willingness to assert his patriarchal authority in his household is met with Lizzie’s wall of defence. Sikira who is desperate to earn the status of respect as Lizzie blatantly tells her husband that they are equals. Apparently, Sikira takes her feminism too far with bitter confrontation. Unable to manage the ensuing anger in Lejoka-Brown, Sikira decides to leave. When his fallout with his political party becomes news, Mama Rashida also leaves. His political disaster is linked to his marital squabble with Sikira and his macho treatment of other women in the party. Lizzie eventually has her husband to herself.

As for the Mosaic Theatre Production of Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again last weekend, there was a conscious attempt to stay committed to the 42-year old script. Performed to a three-quarter filled auditorium, the play has just two settings namely Lejoka-Brown’s home and the political party secretariat. The electronic backdrop was the alibi for the undetailed set design which typically should have a portrait of Lejoka-Brown or national emblem like a national flag. Instead, the electronic backdrop was super-imposed on the real set design and it made one of them seem unnecessary.

Audience scrutiny of Lizzie’s characterisation was quite palpable in the auditorium. The young actress made a gracious outing on stage with her ingenious subtlety, moderating her emotions even in the case of outbursts. On the contrast, Lejoka-Brown was overtly dramatic, assuming the burden of bearing all the energy on stage. His Yoruba intonation was impeccable, a major milestone for a non-Yoruba actor who is associated with elevated roles of actor-singer in popular musicals such as Kakadu and Saro. Sikira fell for the temptation to be as melodramatic as her husband. Polycarp (Omololu Shodiya)’s character was a bit overcooked. He stalls to an annoying degree.

Lasting one hundred minutes, the play’s scene transition was incredibly slow, allowing music to be played to kill time. The duration of the play could have been less if the pace is well-timed and some elaborate dialogues are trimmed.

Agozie Ugwu, the producer-director of the play, drew a close to the curtain call by telling the audience about pending productions.

“I thank you all for coming. Without you, there is no theatre. This show is still coming next week Sunday. Please tweet about it and invite your friends. Later in the year, we have shows in Abuja. We have some theatre for development in IDP camps to train and empower the vulnerable. We want to train them on acting, costume and make-up,” he said to a cheering audience.