By Anote Ajeluorou
There are perhaps few texts that best exemplify the eternal struggle between men and women over which sex best understands the other and what the relationship between them should be than late Prof. Ola Rotimi’s Man Talk Woman Talk. The closest perhaps are Eva Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and Wole Oguntokun’s The Tarzan Monologues that also confront the issues frontally. But the latter two are monologues that succeed in playing up only one side of the bargain and do not give the other side a chance to state its case. But Rotimi turns the tables and goes confrontational, in real life situation of a debate as is wont to happen between a man and a woman.
As foremost academic and scholar, Rotimi adds a further pep when he decides to intellectualise the argument between man and woman by situating it in a legal content. By so doing, he is more able to provoke fierce fireworks that is sometimes irreverent, sensual, acidic, peevish and even downright abusive and also comic.
Complete with Chairman (Opeyemi Dada) and Counselor (Omotunde Sogunle) as jury panel to hear the case of man versus woman to find out the many contentious issues between the sexes, boy (Seun Kentebe) and Girl (Abigail Nero) are locked in bitter debate as how one relates with the other and which one between them is more provocative, vulgar, aggressive, caring, loving. In plain terms, the playwright is looking at reaching a middle point so as to forge harmony between the two. As is often the case, the arguments and counter-arguments spiral out of hand to produce a sparkling dose of sheer dramatic enjoyment.
Lovers of theatre were treated to Rotimi’s finest theatrical delivery recently at The Ethnic Heritage, Ikoyi, Lagos, when B/Rated Production staged Man Talk Woman Talk, directed by Bimbo Olurunmola to acclaim. Perhaps, one of Rotimi’s most comical plays, Man Talk Woman Talk best typifies the usual intellectual ferment on campus characterised by debates among students to bring out the best in them. Rotimi understood this and eloquently brings out among law students who must resort to the legalese of their trade to enrich the debate.
Girl fires the first shot. Who, really, is the prostitute, between man and woman? That would seem easy enough, but Girl marshals such compelling argument to show that men are the ‘real’ prostitutes in also always soliciting for sex from women whereas women are innocent bystanders towards whom men perform the act of solicitations. But Boy responds sharply; whatever solicitations men engage from women are as a result of women’s open invitation through their revealing dress sense. Women know that men are moved by sight, what they see and women capitalize on this.
But Girl is not convinced; why should a woman’s innocent way of dressing be viewed as invitation for sexual aggression and even violence if men’s brains are not fixed the wrong way: between their thighs instead of in their skull? Indeed, Girl argues that men are wrongly wired and through with their thighs rather than with their brains and so sees everything upside down. It is the only reason a woman’s dress form should be motivation for drooling. Besides, Girl counters that men are not blameless on the dress sense score otherwise why do men leave out a button or two to expose their manly jungle of hairy chest if it wasn’t open invitation for women to see and admire them?
Chairman’s son’s (Austin Onuoha) invitation to tender evidence causes a stir between Counsellor and Girl, as he bursts into the ‘courtroom’ with clothes that bare all his sinews that turn the women on. If anything the scene is a win-win for both debaters: a man or woman’s bare-all dress sense is enough tempting invitation for both sexes. The clincher, however, is the way forward proposition. How can the sex war be tamed? Girl seems to have it worked out. She proposes the ‘care,’ ‘attention,’ and ‘trust’ formula. She understands that some women like the aggression in men, but she proposes it be in moderation.
Rotimi’s Man Talk Woman Talk is serio-comic, intellectualising play that puts the actors on their toes in its provocative, energetic performance. There’s no pause or break to scene change. To score a point depends on the logic behind it. Kentebe and Nero perform excellently to win the heart of the audience on the lawn theatre at The Ethnic Heritage Centre. Chairman of the debate committee, Dada, steered proceedings expertly, comically, even if partially, to the admiration of the audience. He helped to amplify and underscore both sides of the debate for the benefit of the audience. His tending towards the Boy’s argument is understandable. Counselor, too, isn’t unbiased; she tends towards Girl’s arguments; she is a concerned party.
Although chairman declares Boy winner on technical points, the audience went away satisfied that a great dramatic reenactment had happened before them. It was a moment to savour. It’s a piece of drama you’d wish you saw often. Bimbo Olurunmola-led B/Rated production did a great job of staging; it will do well to restage the play soon enough, but at a bigger stage for a bigger audience. Evidently, he would need sponsorship support to realise restaging Man Talk Woman Talk, one of Rotimi’s finest plays.