While taking a critical look at society so as to suggest ways to make it better by boosting children and parents’ relations, the late Israeli psychologist, Haim G. Ginott, said, ‘parents often talk about the younger generation, as if they didn’t have anything to do with it.’ The argument of one generation being superior to the other resonates in the play Itan (The story) presented by Thespian Family Theatre and Productions at National Theatre, Lagos.
Written by Ayo Jaiyesimi, the play showcases Asiko (Time), Nissi George intervening in a conflict between Pa Latinwo (Olu Okekanye), a hotheaded village elder, and his newly discovered city, roller-coaster grandson, D-Kay (Segun Dada).
On Pa Latinwo learning that his grandson, D-Kay, is living big in the city, decides to visit him, and through him, reconnect with his daughter, Alaba (Bodunrin Afolabi). He wades through the hustling and bustling of the city that heightens his dislike for the discourteous behaviour of the youths, their dress sense and the self-centredness of majority of the people, the old man finally locates his grandson, D-Kay, a plain ruffian.
Mystified that an old man like him should look for him in the city, Pa Latinwo begins to tell his family history, rekindling memories that link the young man to him. While this is going on, both discover from their lifestyles that they are two worlds apart. While the old man holds strongly to traditional attitudes and values, the cheerful and reckless young man leads a life that is the direct opposite of his grand dad’s. He believes in modernity and that the past is a farce that does not exist any more.
As the old and young firmly hold onto their beliefs, refusing to shift grounds in their battle for generational supremacy, Asiko arrives and takes them on a journey into the past and the future. In their sojourn, they discover the secrets of their existence, their mistakes and make amends.
Using cultural and contemporary songs and dances, the play captures modern day tensions and misunderstandings in relationships that often crop up between the different generations, highlighting the fact that life is a continuum.
It brings to the fore themes and sub-themes like betrayal, empathy, trust, struggle, death, communality and others. Jaiyesimi moves into the realm of the spirit, depicting through Asiko, how an invisible hand controls the activities of man.
Here, Asiko, acting as arbitrator, joins the old and the new, and makes them see that without one there won’t be the other. It emphasises the importance of continuity.
Another lesson the play teaches is the need to accept those things man cannot control. If Pa Latinwo had not allowed the death of his wife, Asake, to take the better part of him to the extent that little or no attention is paid to Labara, his only child, the poor village damsel would not have bothered to leave the village for a city she knows nothing about. Labara’s departure from Ilu Ologbo made her fall victim of an old squabble that sets the old and new generations at crossroads.
Thrilling as the play may be, it, however, has shortcomings. First, it is performed for over one hour, 20 minutes. Secondly, Labara is portrayed as naive, uneducated and unfit for Banku, the godfather of the Mafia, but it is the same damsel that is seen reading a magazine in the early part of the play. How was she able to read if she isn’t educated? Also, there are too many flashbacks, which could confuse the audience’s understanding. One is the scene where D-Kay is to marry, and also that of the godfather. D-Kay’s marriage should have been better expressed in words just like he said: ‘The godfather betrayed us because he said no member of the brotherhood should marry.”
However, Itan is a beautiful storyline and the performance its superlative interpretation.
With the array of dance, relevant songs and costume, the playwright who doubles as the executive director, needs to be commended for her efforts at managing the over 70-man cast on stage. The command performance of the play holds today at National Theatre, Lagos.