LABOURING UNDER THE BURDEN OF BEING MAN’S BURDEN

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Man Enough, a stage play by the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions, ends its three-day run today in Abuja with a message that interrogates what it really means to be a man. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

From stage right, upstage and stage left, three male figures emerge. Then, in slow, deliberate steps, they advance towards the apron. “This is not my story,” the audience is reminded. “This is your story.” With a raised clenched-fist upward thrust of their right arms, reminiscent of the Black Power salute, they add: “This is the story of every man, struggling everyday to be man enough.”

Man Enough…That’s actually the title of this Bolanle Austen-Peters (BAP) Productions’ latest stage play. It is, in a manner of speaking, really not the story about these three men. Who are they, after all? They could be just any man living in Africa or Asia or in Europe or America.

Today, the stage play concludes its three-day run at The Nigerian Export Promotion Council, Export House in the Maitama district of Abuja with two productions – a matinée holding from 3 p. m. and an evening show which begins at 7 p.m.. Previously, there had been just one show on Friday, October 11 from 7 p.m. and two on Saturday, October 12, which held from 3 p.m. and from 7 p.m..


Indeed, the choice of Abuja for the first-time staging of this play is not arbitrary. The Lagos-based BAP Productions had recently been inundated by requests from theatre buffs in the federal capital, who were drooling for more theatrical spectacles. This was on the heels of the overwhelming success of BAP Production’s previous productions in the city within the last two years.
Produced and directed by Bolanle Austen-Peters, Man Enough is written by Paul Ugbede and is being sponsored by Africa Magic, Amstel Malta, NEPC, ECOBANK and Terra Kulture.

Back to the stage, the audience gradually gets acquainted with the play’s main characters. First, there is Bruno (played by Ayo Ayoola), a heavyset ebony-complexioned man who sports a beard. He is portrayed as an old, egoistic and rich alpha male, who is ready to play. Then, representing the regular guy with ambitious dreams is Onyilo (Gideon Okeke). In an apparent race against time, he is intent on punching above his weight. Finally, Thino evokes a character, who lives in a perpetual haze of denial and gropes his way through his earthly existence in religious blinkers.

Deftly woven around the lives of these three characters, the play’s storyline – with musical interjections – zooms in frequently on the great burden of expectations under which the modern man labours. He, as the coarser sex, senses a need to protect the delicate flower of womanhood. To do this, he postures to be stronger than he actually is. Besides, the fact that he has for too long focused on earthly-physical activities has rendered his intuitive faculties unnaturally insensitive. This condition is nourished by the distorted concepts of a modern world that has long closed itself to possibilities that are beyond the grasp of the intellect.

His intellect – a tool to be used solely for his time on earth – becomes the new golden calf around which he dances in adulation. With it, man fights for his earthly subsistence, seeks to achieve his greatest ambitions and forms his make-believe world.

Meanwhile, beneath the carapace of apparent calmness, the inner man wishes to cry out. But then, it happens that men are not expected to cry. This is even when in a bid to be “man enough”, men cave in to the pressure of trying to meet up with the ever-increasing demands of an insensitive and overbearing society. Hence, through the 1-hour-30-minute play, the audience gets to hear the stifled anguished voice of the male sex crying to be heard and yelling to be saved from a world that imagines him to be a Super Man. Bruno is, for instance, continually haunted by a spectre of fear, which he desperately tries to exorcise. As for Onyilo, his world of great expectations is threatening to explode before his own very eyes. Meanwhile, Thino is stalked by the prospects of confronting the reality of the choices he has to make.

Gradually, the feet of clay of these characters become more and more evident, as the storyline unfolds with more colourful characters filling in the blank spaces. For instance, through the contrasting attributes of his brother (played by Moshood Fattah), Thino assumes a more down-to-earth persona. Then, there is Mr Wong (Paolo Sisiano), who struts about, giving himself autocratic airs. No less intense are the other characters like Madam Suzie (Tana Adelana), Okombo (Ralph Okoro) and Enitan (Juliana Olayode), among others.

“Man Enough reflects the conversation to be had, of changing gender roles and stereotypes in recent public discourse.‘Boys are not smiling’ cannot be truer in a society that has no pity for the men; it is time to see how stereotypical narratives hurt not just the women alone; they hurt the men too,” a statement from BAP explains.

The lives of these three everyday men offer more than just a single narrative of the reality that confronts the modern man in his bid to create world of his own in today’s upwardly mobile society. “More than ever before we see man’s vulnerability; we see his fear and most of all, we see the choices he has to make for self, family and society as he tries to maintain the traditional masculinity,” the statement adds. “For the first time on stage, we are faced with the various pressure the man has to struggle with; financial pressure, pressure of being rejected or accepted by the women folk, pressure from the extended family and the general pressure society puts on the man in his quest to prove that he is man enough.”

A wholly Nigerian theatre and movie production company, BAP Productions has upped the ante with its first-rate Broadway-like tours de force: Saro the Musical (performed in 2013), Wakaa! the Musical (performed in December 2014 and April 2015), Fela and the Kalakuta Queens (staged in in December 2017/ January 2018 and again in March/ April 2018 before hitting the big stage in Abuja in June 2018) as well as Queen Moremi (staged in December 2018 and in April this year).

Both Saro the Musical and Wakaa the Musical have made forays into London’s theatrical scene and returned with tales of huge successes and high demand for productions of African and indeed Nigerian origin.

The production company, owned and run by Bolanle Austen-Peters, has also co-produced the movie 93 DAYS, a feature film on the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria and which premiered on September 13, 2016 in Lagos and that was in addition to being selected for premiering and viewing at the Toronto Film Festival, Chicago Film Festival and the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles. Its latest movie, The Bling Lagosians currently holds the record as the highest grossing Nollywood movie of the year.