When you go to see a play by Kelvin-Mary Ndukwe be prepared to step into the world, usually, of a dysfunctional Nigerian family.
Get ready for a cocktail of mind-bending revelations. Try not to be gobsmacked by the many secrets crawling out of mouths and closets. Allow yourself to scream and shout and wonder how Mr. Ndukwe’s mind works and where the stories come from.
It would have been nice to hear what Sigmund Freud would have to say after a session of poking into the playwrights very imaginative mind.
Continuing with his immersive theatre style which made Sisi Pelebe such a visceral experience for audiences, Omugwo plies the same trajectory in which the audience and the actors are in the same space with the action going on within the “seats” as it were because there is no stage as we know it.
The immersive theatre experience basically does away with the classical proscenium stage with a curtain. It seems to ride on Shakespeare’s observation spoken by Jaques in As You Like It “All the world’s a stage,/And all the men and women merely players;/They have their exits and their entrances”
The players in Omugwo are Nduka (Floyd Igbo), Chichi (Uche Chika Elumelu), Mama/Mummy (Eva Ezi Ogoro) and Man of God (Chukwu Martin). The story revolves around the trio of Nduka and Chi and Mama.
The play opens on a bickering couple, Nduka and Chichi. Nduka is set for work but he wants to unburden himself before he exits the house. He apologises over and over again but Chichi is not in the mood and so tries to shoo him off.
“By the way Mama is arriving today for Omugwo,” he announces. “Your mum, not mine.”
Chichi says she is not interested in the Omugwo and Nduka is still trying to muster enough energy to go to work when his mother-in-law arrives. She tells him he “looks scattered” remarking correctly on his discombobulated state.
Nduka exits and his wife comes out to meet her mother and it is from their dialogue, with Mama trying to convince her daughter to behave that family secrets start tumbling out.
Mama has a lover, Emeka beke but that is not the kicker. When she talks about how much she loved her husband, her potty mouthed daughter asks “”How come all of us have different fathers”.
Chichi is an exasperating presence and Ms. Elumelu is a revelation in the role. Her control is impressive as she segues between different emotional states. Her ability to convey the mental state of a post-partum depressive is worthy of commendation as is her ability not to let the character descend into melodramatic screaming and ranting. She plays the part of Chimamanda Matilda Ngirika with élan and aplomb
Mama, on the other hand, is the long suffering bearer of secrets who exasperated by Chichi finally unburdens herself of her decades old secret.
Nduka holds his own as the henpecked cheating spouse but it is the Man of God who almost steals the show. A charlatan, he has Mama eating out of his palms and doing his bidding. This is a new age Brother Jero without the soutane.
When Mama tries to explain to Chichi who the Man of God is, he screams and says “Don’t answer the devil o” and when he starts praying, the man whom Mama says knew Chichi’s name before she even met him keeps asking “What’s her name again.”
But Mama is too blinded by her burden to see the charlatan for whom he is.
The play is about a woman in the throes of past partum depression and her conditionis exacerbated by a traumatic incident which she has hidden. There is also the issue of her husband’s affair with Tomisin who gets pregnant twice and undergoes two abortions while Chichi is expecting.
These traumatic and unsettling incidents are responsible for Chichi’s inability to feel maternal or connect with her 6 weeks old baby who is already being fed formula. It is also part of the reason why she is bickering with Nduka and refusing to let her mother come for Omugwo.
Her snarky remarks and digs at her mother finally leads to old woman to tell her why she left Chichi’s father and it is a sad truth that leaves everyone in the audience in shock.
Chichi handles it well and kudos must go too to the director for avoiding melodrama. She thanks her “mother” for all she has done for her and for taking her in when it wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Then she drops her own bombshell.
To find out what that is, you need to watch Kelvin-Mary ndukwe’s rivettng play which focuses on mental health, incest, family dysfunction, religious chicanery and many more.
***Omugwo continues its weekend run at Terra Kulture until October 24.