Friday, March 14, 2008

So, the V-Monologues ....

So, the famed/notorious (depending on your p.o.v) V-Monologues FINALLY arrived in Lagos yesterday. For a few months, I had read posts about the writing process and also seen photos from the rehearsals. After reading and hearing a lot of differing opinions about it, I was curious to see it and make-up my own mind.

I was looking forward to it, because after seeing the production of the Vagina Monologues two years ago, while I enjoyed it immensely, I felt that it would have so much more significance to Nigerian women if it were rooted in a more familiar cultural context. Besides, we have so many of our own issues that women in Nigeria are dealing with that I felt that would offer such a rich palette of experiences to draw from.

The first thing I noticed was how the title of the show had been modified from the Vagina Monologues to the V-Monologues. Hmmmm, was this some form of prudery and trying to avoid using the word “vagina”? I sincerely hoped not. Maybe it had its reasons in something legal? Or an attempt to indicate that this was an adaptation? Anyway, let’s move on.

Overall, I enjoyed many of the monologues. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the experiences appeared to be drawn largely from the experiences of women in the southern part of Nigeria. The realities of women from the north were not really present (aside from one monologue centered on a child bride and VVF; and another on wife-sharing in the middle-belt).

Many of the monologues were sad. This was necessary to portray the reality of many women’s lives. Many of them were poignant and kept you thinking back and reflecting on them hours after the show had ended. Not a lot were celebratory (I can only think of three or maybe four that were intended to be); however even in some of the more painful ones, there were flashes of biting humour, reminding you that life can be like that sometimes.

In some of the monologues, women were identified as the main culprits in causing or aggravating another woman’s pain, in selling her out and letting her down at the worst possible time (The Black Widow, Women Trafficking). Women were shown sometimes to be pawns of men in perpetuating hurtful cultural traditions (the monologue on FGM). In some cases, women were portrayed as being too helpless to take a stand. All of which can imply that women are weak, spineless, witless or cruel. “Yes, you see! You women are your own worst enemies.”

In all this, patriarchy continues to rear its ugly, multi-hydra’ed head, although that might not be the message that many would take away from this.

The last monologue recounts many great women from times gone past and is, I imagine, intended to be a rousing call to arms. It states how patriarchy came with the white man and how the existence of the ‘great women of yore’ (e.g. Queen Amina, Moremi, Emotan, Efunsetan Aniwura) proved that historically there existed no form of discrimination based on gender. Now, I don’t believe that is correct at all! I believe that these women were the exception rather than the rule. Yes, we have had, and still have, families with strong mother figures, but they have tended to ‘know their place’ within the power structure of the family.

Women were reminded that “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” While this is true on some levels, it does not account for the women who are not sufficiently knowledgeable about their rights (this is not just in a legal context) or empowered enough to fight their way out of the box that culture, society, tradition, religion, etc has put them in. So that statement, to me, was akin to belittling their pain and suffering.

Like I mentioned though, I enjoyed many of the monologues. I appreciate the phenomenal amount of work that went into writing and producing them. I was in awe of the actresses, particularly Omonor Imobhio and Bimbo Akintola. I also enjoyed Kemi Akindoju from Theatre @ Terra (Wow! She can SING!).

I think this was a good start in telling Nigerian women’s stories, but I would love to see a wider range of experiences represented; perhaps more monologues offering some hope or glimmer at the end of a very dark tunnel (or is there none?). Yes, we know that women can be cruel to other women, but let’s also not kid ourselves in believing that Nigeria is not patriarchal society. It is very much so and that needs to be re-enforced. Also, next year, let’s do without the male narrator and drummers.

Other Reviews:
- Funmi Iyanda
- Uzo
- When I moved back to Naija
- Naijablog


everchange said...

I was hoping you would do a review! This seems consistent with what other people have said about the play (though a lot more balanced). It really grates when people throw around icons like Moremi without allowing that these politically influential women were usually exceptional cases. I can only imagine what the narrator sounded like. *Shiver*

Ore said...

I would have loved to have done a review, but there were a lot of monologues and I can't remember all their names and match them with the titles I see in the programme. So, if I tried a review, I would probably mix up some of the monologues.

The narration was pretty brief and most of the colouring was left to the monologues, so that was not too bad. However his voice was so deep and sharply in contrast with the women's, that it cast a masculine air over the evening.

Loomnie said...

Thanks for the post. I plan to see the presentation next week. I share your feelings about revisionist tendencies that assume a glorious genderless Yoruba past. Hope to report what I see next week.

everchange said...

I meant what you've done already - I'm glad you wrote about it in short.

Ore said...

LOL! Okay, I thought you meant a blow-by-blow.

Oluwatoyin Ajao-Dawodu said...

Dear Ore,

I agree completely with your review of Vagina Monologues. The V-monologues title itself suggests “we have to be careful, this is Nigeria”. So, what if this is Nigeria? It’s good to always hit the nail on the head!!!

I wonder really, why the male drummers? When we have a lot of skilful and talented female drummers in Nigeria that they could hire for the play. My own thought of the male narrator was that they wanted the audience to see that the men too identified with these issues.

Tunde’s “re-vulva”which I believed she wrote herself was good though I didn’t get the message it wished to pass across very well but this sentence stuck with me “my re-vulva – the instrument of mass destruction”. This is repeating the stereotypical message in the eyes of Nigerians. I have heard that so many times before and I think it’s not nice when women are to blame for some men’s lack of fidelity and decency. A man seating at my back that night even said “yes o” when Tunde said those words.
My re-vulva doesn’t mass destruct but it’s sure powerful. That’s it.

And the cast, Omonor was a terrific performer!!! Bimbo was da bomb, Kemi has got a sonorous voice, Kate interpreted her role well. The 8 of them together made a good team.

dat one okrika said...

thanks for the review/post. i've stumbled upon a couple of other blogs that discussed the vagina-monologues...all these good reviews makes a person want to jump on the next plane to lagos to go see it.