By Anote Ajeluorou
When some years ago, Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues hit Nigerian stage, it caused a stir, not least because of its no-holds-bare expose of the female anatomy and the complex nature of women, with a cry for men to relate fairly and better with the ‘weaker sex’. The all female-cast dramatic offering reaches out to men and makes a strong case for the womenfolk, that although they live in a ‘man’s world’, they also have a stake in that world and brutality of any sort (battery, rape) from men isn’t the way to go. More than anything else, it also tasks women on self-belief; that the tag of ‘weaker sex’ is a ploy invented by the male folk to keep them perpetually in the ‘kitchen’ status to deny them aspirations of their own.
The Vagina Monologues’ brutal delivery and verdict of no-confidence on men is instructive if only for righting century-old wrongs men have perpetuated against womenfolk the world over. But its performance in Lagos, Nigeria, elicited no less a frank, brutal male narrative of equal dramatic impact.
It, no doubt, threw up a challenge to the male folk, which Renegade Theatre’s boss, Mr. Wole Oguntokun, was to take up soon enough. So, it seemed to him, women do have issues they need to resolve with men, not so? What about men? Don’t they have issues of equal or far higher weight to tackle women for as well? Aren’t there issues that tend to stand between healthy relationships that women so often overlook or fail to take account? Have men’s story been properly told to an unheeding world? Isn’t the ‘man’s world’ mantra some bobby-trap designed to cage men, when, in fact, they are mere beasts-of-burden, who trudge on in unspeakable conditions of misery weighed down by society and women’s expectations of their manliness?
So what are men’s real, burdensome issues in life, in relationships, with women? These formed the thematic preoccupation of The Tarzan Monologues, a play that shared a spot at Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF) 2015 that ended last week. It was performed at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, last Friday, not surprisingly to an audience largely made up of women, young and old. Was it by design or coincidence? Whatever it was, the play made a deep, lasting impression on the audience, which engagingly responded to every aspect of the issues raised. Interestingly, the women audience was more vocal in responding to the message. Perhaps, its impact weighed heavily on the women who were being spoken to in a language relationship crises often made difficult between the sexes.
For instance, how does a young man in his late 30s or early 40s explain to his mother that he hasn’t achieved as much as Yakubu Gowon achieved at age 29 by becoming Nigeria’s head of state because she hadn’t sacrificed as much as Gowon’s mother did so his son could afford a soldier’s uniform? Or how can a man to make his wife understand that he can’t always make his ‘little’ man get up all the time she wants ‘it’ because the stocks have crashed and his fortune is at stake, or because the children’s school fees haven’t been paid? Or that the rent is hanging and the landlord will show up any time soon? That, indeed, a man’s state of mind necessarily affects his sexual performance and when that happens his woman should be patient and not jump to conclusion that her man has lost his ‘power’ to perform.
And, why can’t a man be allowed to navigate his path to success on his own terms and not be stampeded by the demands of society and women to succeed at all cost? Inevitably, this leads to injury that subverts social values, like corruption from which Nigeria is currently reeling. But the monologues do not spare women in certain areas that affect both men and women. For instance, why do wives not believe their husbands in their quest for a son to validate their marriages? Why do women think that bearing a son necessarily guarantees their hold on their husbands, especially when such decision poses danger to the particular wife’s life? After six daughters, why would a woman still try for the elusive son even when doctors advise otherwise for the sake of her health? Countless women have died from such stubbornness. And who are usually the people that count the six girls, as amounting to no children at all because there’s no boy child yet, that prompt such woman to self-suicide? Fellow women in the family, of course! Fellow women crucify their kind for her inability to breed boys, who would own the family, even when the man is indifferent about such societal demand!
What about old, sexy grey, who, in his advanced age, becomes the ladies’ man on account of his wealth that charms the women, especially the young ones? It wasn’t always so, especially when he was a struggling young man; the women of his day promptly avoided him. But not now anymore that he’s made; with a snap of his fingers, the women come running to massage his libido! And then why can’t an old man marry a girl in her 20s if that’s the direction their passion is headed?
What about the sexual abuses young boys receive from older family female members that stick with them all their lives, as they are unable to snap out of the act and properly love other women afterwards? Or how beastly and unmanly men’s act of rape is and is so duly rapped out to even the deaf among men. This is the world of The Tarzan Monologues telling the woe-tales of men, and their triumph, too. It is the world of men as defined by their friction with the women that pepper their lives.
Indeed, The Tarzan Monologues is a deft dramatic performance that explores the psychology of the male, as a totally misunderstood being largely because the world is wrongly interpreted to be his. It also explores women’s psychology in relations to men’s and how that narrow psychology necessarily affects a healthy relationship between men and women. For a man to truly own the world, he over-exerts himself to meet society and a woman’s expectation of him. Guess who is first to sprinkle the ashes at his graveside when his exertions to succeed cause his heart to fail and he succumbs to the inevitable? The dear wife, of course! So, men, beware what prompts you to success.
A six-man cast – Taiwo Tekleko, drummer; Joshua Alabi, Austin Onuoha, Rotimi Fakunle, Sunkanmi Adebayo and, of course, Wole Oguntokun, who produced, directed and played old, sexy gray. The dialogue is fast, furious, exciting and spiced with popular, appropriate songs and dance-steps from current Nigerian music to fit the mood of narrative.
The Tarzan Monologues is the sort of play that should be exposed to a much wider audience on account of its psychological treatment of family, men and women, issues that easily make for better, healthier relationships in communities. But lack of funding support poses a challenge, and therefore restricts its outreach to occasional, yearly outings like Lagos Black Heritage Festival 2015. It’s a sad thing that hinders theatre’s inability to permeate society, as it should, a cultural production offering real time value.