…performances continue today, tomorrow and Easter Monday at 3pm & 7pm
…MTN, Amstel lead as friends of theatre
By Ozoro Opute
AS the Christian world celebrates Good Friday and Easter this weekend (April 15-19, 2022), questions about pastoral virtues among practitioners of Christian faith have come to the fore. This is against the backdrop of Christianity practised by a vast majority of Christian leaders in this part of the world that continues to agitate many. Nigeria is a hotbed of the evangelical, Pentecostal brand of Christianity. On every street, there are no less than four or five denominations competing for followership. A great many even have targets set by their Daddy General Overseers (Daddy GOs) that they must meet, not unlike company CEOs and their marketers, otherwise they are shown the way out or advised to resign. So Christianity has become a game of numbers for the God of prosperity that enables Daddy GOs fly in private jets while the vast majority of the flock live in abject penury.
And like the prophetic writer that he is, Wole Soyinka saw through this religious charlatanism at its infancy that came to dilute genuine Christian worship way back in the 1960s, and aptly crafted his enduring play that graphically captures it for all time. It’s The Trials of Brother Jero that Bolanle Austin-Peters Productions (BAP) is staging this Easter festive season at its Terra Kulture Theatre Arena, Victoria Island, Lagos. The play runs through the four-day holiday season. It started on Friday, April 16, 2022, and continues today, Saturday, April 17, 2022, tomorrow, Sunday and ends on Easter Monday, April 18, 202. Two performances hold every day of the show at 3pm and 7pm respectively.
Produced by the General Manager of Terra Kulture, Mr. Joseph Umoibum, The Trials of Brother Jero is directed by Terra Kulture CEO herself, Mrs. Austin-Peters, with a fine cast of tested thespians in the film and theatre business. Lanre Adediwura is Brother Jero (Jeroboam), Kelvinmary Ndukwe as Chume, Zara Udofia-Ejoh as Amope (cloth seller and Chume’s wife), Julius Obende as Old Prophet, church member and neighbour while Adeyemi Okanlawon is Member of Parliament (politician).
Prophet Jero is a charlatan and he does not only know it, but says so openly with a hint of disdain for those dumb enough to believe him, which makes the play a sad commentary on the brand of Christian religion that some Nigerians reinvented to serve their own peculiar needs far from the one they received from European evangelizers who brought the faith to Africa. Indeed, Europeans would be awed by the various brands of Christianity that pepper the souls of every street corner. The famous Lagos Bar Beach along Ahmadu Bellow Way, now being turned into a mega real estate, is the setting for The Jero Plays, as the forebear of prophetic Christian faith long before it gained currency. It was where the afflicted flocked to Jero-type prophets to seek solutions since city dwellers are too refined and avers to visit babalawo or dibia or ebuo in remote villages without realising that these city prophets are reincarnations or reinvention and modernisation of the very people they shun, perhaps even worse.
Jero has a major problem: his weakness for women (daughters of Jezebel, as he calls them). In church and on the streets, Jero is tormented by these women, and he cannot hide his lust for them. For how long does a man of God see these delectable daughters of Eve without falling in sin? How does he bear the cross of lust that these women continually assault his sensibilities with? That’s a struggle that confounds him. He does not have problems conjuring non-existent miracles: the people are too gullible to know. All he needs is simple psychology that requires understand the nature of their problems, invoke the Godly essence to awe his faithful and all is done.
For instance, Jero encounters a politician rehearsing for a ministerial role, and jumps in prophetically in affirmation of his prayers. But when Chume runs in brandishing a cutlass to hack the quack and chases Jero from the scene for lying to him about beating his wife, the politician believes Jero has been teleported to heaven, and stays put to await the triumphant return of the man of God to hear more. It’s the gullibility and desperation of the people starved of the dividends of genuine development for a better life that these charlatans feed fat on. With Nigeria continually regressing in all indices of development, there will continue to be an upsurge of these so-called men of God harassing the living daylight out of the people who, out of desperation, will continue to patronise them as ‘customers’, as Jero calls them, of fake prophecy and non-existent miracles.
Also, with cases of wife battery on the rise and coming to light everyday, the audience’s sensibility was tickled how Jero tackled the issue of his indebtedness to the wife of his favourite acolyte, Chume. Amope is a trader who sells bales of clothing; she had sold fine damask cloth to Jero to make his heavenly sanctioned apparel; not being a member of Jero’s church, she does not know that her husband is Jero’s acolyte. Meanwhile, Chume sees his wife Amope as a troublesome woman who needs to be taught a thing or two with beating. But Jero has held Chume in check, believing that if he allows him have his way by abusing his wife, Chume will grow wings. By forbidding from beating his wife, Jero reasons that Chume will remain submissive to him and continue to do his bidding.
But trouble starts one morning when Amope makes Chume to bring her in his bicycle to a man’s house who is owing her money. Jero arrives his house only to find his creditor laying siege at his doorstep. He manages to escape at the intervention of a fish seller who distracts Amope. When Jero discovers Amope is Chume’s wife, he assures him that by holy mandate, Chume can now beat his wife to teach her sense. Chume is surprised at the turn of Jero’s prophetic ministration in his favour over his wife’s debacle. With renewed energy, he goes home to enforce his newfound holy anger and power over his stubborn wife. But when Chume discovers that Jero ordered him to beat his wife only after taking her home from laying siege on his home, he is forced to recant on his acolyteship and takes a machete to settle scores with Jero.
The Jero-Chume-Amope debacle is instructive of how often some of these so-called men of God or God of men, as perhaps the apt interpretation of the monstrousness of these charlatans, have facilitated the destructin of homes of faithful with their unwise and selfish counsel. Chume is a typical example of how many faithful or so-called believers cannot take any sensible decision in their homes without first consulting these cassock or three piece suit-wearing devils who end up leading them to commit grave error or sin.
Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero is a sensational play to watch. What also makes the current performance of the play truly phenomenal is the unrivalled music, choreography and dances. These are three performative genres BAP Productions has heavily invested in and perfected over the years since Austin-Peters entered the arena of stage performance production. It started with Saro the Musical Theatre, then Wakaa the Musical and Fela and the Kalakuta Queens, Death and King’s Horseman, and Moremi the Musical. In each of these stage performances, energetic, well choreographed dances and vibrant music were at the core of their success both in Nigeria and abroad.
Working with a crop of great dancers, choreographers, musicians, drummers and instrumentalists adept in all types musical instruments, from the traditional to western, Austin-Peters has left no one in doubt that stage performance is not a place for trial-and-error experimentation. She has certainly dug in, and audiences are always on the look out for the next advertised performance which they troop out to see in heir numbers. The over 400-seater Terra Kulture Theatre Arena was packed to the brim in the two shows on Good Friday. Today will be no different.
With her big budgets through the help of A-list sponsors like MTN Foundation and Amstel malt and a host of other side sponsors, BAP Productions has continued to keep Lagos live theatre alive each holiday season all year round. This is no small achievement. The Trials of Brother Jero is the second of Soyinka play after Death and the King’s Horseman that BAP Productions is staging in recent times. There’s something about the energy and verve that BAP Productions brings to the stage, the sweep of the dances (raunchy and celestial this time), the visual effects and lighting, the unforgettable music and the acting all combine to give an evening’s worth of time spent in the theatre. With the current performance of The Trials of Brother Jero, there’s an ingenuous infusion of modern rhythm and beats that combine the celestial and the mundane in such dexterous manner that the audience’s applause was endless when the curtain fell after an hour and twenty minutes’ performance. Terra Kulture Theatre Arena is certainly a place to be this Easter holiday for a dose of great theatre!