Napoléon Bonaparte, the French statesman, having lost hope in religion, said: “If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god.”
Many like Bonaparte are also disenchanted, but dare not voice it out for fear of being described as black sheep or humiliated.
While many take anything that comes from the clergy hook, line and sinker, some bold writers have gone ahead to put some of the flaws of religion into plays to spur discussions .
Like the French revolutionist, the Nigerian Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, saw so many things wrong with the way Nigerians practise the Christian religion. In fact, he described it as a trade, which made him come up with a play titled, Jero’s Plays. It satirises religion, exposing the sly behaviours of some church leaders.
Presented last Sunday by Openhouse Troupe, Lagos, the play, set in Lagos, shows how church leaders utilise public spaces like the beach, meant for public relaxation for their services. Brother Jero happens to be one of the many prophets, whose church uses the beach, as a place of worship.
The play opens with Brother Jero (Deinde Ayilara) instructing his Secretary, Sister Rebecca (Grace Akume), to write invitation letters to other prophets, also operating on the beach for a meeting. Jero is in possession of a confidential file that reveals government’s plans to transform the beach into a public prosecution ground and tourists’ centre. The shrewd Jero plans to use the file and its contents to unite all the church leaders operating at the beach and also to make them form one church with him as leader.
On the meeting day, the prophet comes late. He had instructed his secretary to give the prophets before him lots of alcoholic drink. His late appearance is to get the other prophets soaked in alcohol so that he could easily have his way.
True to plan, this happens.
The church heads agree to form a unified church as a way of protecting their interests and also to be relevant in the government’s new plans. The leaders decide to vote on who to head the church. Influenced by alcohol, they cast their votes in favour of Brother Jero, over Pastor Shadrack (Wale Shoaga), his rival. Pastor Shadrack is a dedicated, true man of God, the opposite of his colleagues, but his fellow leaders connive and throw him out of their circle. Though, he threatens them with a lawsuit, he never acted on it.
Having metamorphosed into one church with Jero as head, the leaders buy the idea of changing their religious titles of Bishop, Pastor and Prophet to military titles like General, Colonel, Sergeant and others.
By satirising Christian religious hypocrisy, particularly the unquestioning devotion that many believers display towards their spiritual leaders, which usually expose them to manipulation, the play depicts some church leaders as fraudulent, deceptive, who also lust for political power. It also shows how some church leaders have abandoned the flock they are called to care for, in pursuit of commerce and other mundane things.
Produced by Funke Adodo and directed by Ajuba Tomiwa, its themes cut across leadership struggle, deception, lies, stealing, drunkenness, false lifestyle and an expose on the ills of society. It shows how those in authority are easily hoodwinked by religious leaders to do their bidding.
Although written in the 1960s, the timeless nature of Jero’s Metamorphosis makes it resonate with today’s Christianity. Indeed, Soyinka’s message is eternal: all religious organisations and heads, irrespective of their faith, should cleanse themselves of charlatanism.
With a completely new and young cast, the character deploys every language of the theatre to create a wholesome package. The director deflects the naivety of the cast with good movement and picturisation, such that the chaaracters are not static. However, Brother Jero (Deinde Ayilara) upped the game, as he made up for the naivety in other cast. His dances, body language and expression leave the audience with the belief that he must have been one of the prophets at the beach.
Also, the costume, especially the military uniform did not fully represent the Nigerian army uniform, using the Boys’ Brigade, Man-O-War and Boys’ Scout outfits to represent the military is an abrasion. It would have being better to make them wear the dummy of various ranks on green coloured French suite.