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Bringing authentic African theatre to Los Angeles

By Olaniran Fafowora
12 January 2020   |   4:12 am
Some Sundays are unforgettable in the life of a pastor outside church events. Those Sundays include opportunities to participate in social events of peculiar nature.

Akinfemi and members of cast after performance

Some Sundays are unforgettable in the life of a pastor outside church events.  Those Sundays include opportunities to participate in social events of peculiar nature. The Sunday I watched the stage performance of Zulu Sofola’s Wedlock of the Gods was an unforgettable day of both extraordinary entertainment and even more importantly, lessons of life.

Wedlock of the Gods, enacted by the Bayo Akinfemi and the African Theatre Artistes Society, was more than entertainment. It brings to life the power of consuming passion when true love conflicts with the tenets of culture. The story’s like this: the arranged husband of a young lady dies. The young widow feels released from the bondage of the forced marriage and finds herself in the embrace of her preferred lover. The intense love affair is considered a violation of the sacred norms –and in this case, barrier of tradition. Against overwhelming odds, the young couple determine to dance to their love music in defiance of the dictates of culture and tradition. In the inevitable confrontation between the goddess of love and the god of tradition, something, or someone, must give.  The lovers commit suicide.

This production was first staged at the University of Southern California during Black History Month and then made its way to The Complex Hollywood theatre around the end of the year. Akinfemi, who was a pupil of the late Zulu Sofola, does great honour to what many people call the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ of Nigeria. His subtle yet powerful direction moved the mixed audience that included a substantial number of people of African descent in the Los Angeles area.

It was a presentation that made Africans proud by the rich display of their history and cultural heritage –in dance, costumes, and songs.  The versatility of the performers to bring to life this touching love tragedy must be appreciated. Our elation from watching Wedlock of the Gods on stage can only be compared with how we felt when Black Panther was released. The actors and actresses demonstrated natural talents. Each performer enlivened the characters they portrayed, acted with passion and energy, and infused their unique talents into their respective roles. Indeed, they brought the story of the play to life and Prof. Sofola would be proud of this production. The strength and power of unyielding love was aptly acted out in the play. In the same manner the custodians of culture and tradition did not give up their passion in protecting the heritage they believed in.

In modern times, cultural experiences are increasingly globalized, and love is viewed from different perspectives and expressed in unorthodox ways, Wedlock of the Gods definitely serves a didactic purpose.

The clash of individual values with the demands of tradition is a popular theme in the arts of many world cultures.  Alas, no one, right or wrong, can go against the norms of his people and survive it; the lovers in this play gained their love but only at the price of their lives. This throws up the question at what price will an individual uphold her belief? Other issues that this play raises include the meaning of love, the meaning of courage in the face of opposition to personal belief or value, and the need for continuous review of the norms of society in a non-static world. Furthermore, the play preaches a sermon on commitment to true love and also leaves an enduring message for custodians of traditions.

The multi-faceted message and lessons in Wedlock of the Gods are both timeless and of universal relevance. For this reason, that I would recommend that this play be presented to audiences around the U.S and beyond. It is said that the sound of a drum is not dependent on the mere strength of the drummer. Beyond reading a review of it, I recommend that everyone should watch this worthwhile production.

• Fafowora is a passionate theatre & film enthusiast. He graduated from the University of Lagos. He has a doctorate degree in Organisational Leadership and lives in Los Angeles, California.