Oh, How Dearly I Detest Thee … Plight of women in false marriage on stage
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, one of Roman emperors and a stoic philosopher, is noted for saying: “No one was ever injured by the truth; but he who persists in self-deception and ignorance.”
The former ruler must have seen the good in leading a truthful life and consequences of false lifestyle. The One Troupe recently presented Oh, How Dearly I Detest Thee to bring the virtue of truthfulness and openness to the forecourt of live theatre lovers, as a way to celebrate womanhood and the girl-child.
Written by Jeanne Ngo Libondo, the play, which is set in Douala, Cameroun, tells the story of a couple forced into an arranged marriage by their parents. Three years after, the couple, Tambe (Remi Michael) and Ako (Tamu Ejeme) remain strange bedmates, unable to settle their differences and consummate their marriage.
Ako tells Tambe to his face how dearly she detests him. She taunts impotent husband and refuses to obey every instruction he gives. She challenges him on every count, even with doing little chores like tidying the walls of their sitting room. Ako wishes the marriage never held and even threatens to poison her husband, as a way of breaking free from the lock called marriage.
While the woman cries over her husband’s inability to make her a mother, lose her virginity; Tambe, desirous of peace in his home, stomachs all the insults. Though, most times he reacts to the wife’s barbs. He also blackmails her with poison. He agonises over his inability to sleep with his wife, lest he makes her pregnant. While Tambe lives with his fears, he never wants the public, not even his family members, to learn he is impotent. He rather projects Ako as a troublemaker who needs to be avoided for peace to reign.
As the double standard goes on, the unexpected happens; Tambe dies in an auto crash. At first, the news brings shock to Ako; shock for losing someone she has lived with for three years. But the shock soon turns to sorrow, when the head of the emissary that brings the ill news, a traditional chief, begins to make advances at her, while the pains of her husband passing away is still fresh. He reminds Ako of how either of the siblings of her late husband –– Solomon (Wale Adedino) or Benjamin (Kenneth Asiebo) –– would inherit her as wife else she would be ostracised if she refuses.
This troubles her, as she cannot imagine being treated like a property. More so, the options are just not the right set of people to choose for a husband. She imagines the shame she would face if she reveals she has been living with her late husband as a virgin –– a married virgin! She kills herself instead.
Written in the 1970s as a radio drama, the play is still topical, especially as some African communities still hold tightly to the culture of wife inheritance, matchmaking with little regard to those involved, especially the girl-child.
With a fantastic storyline, the cast, especially Ako was at her best in interpreting the play. In fact, her acting: body movement and tonal inflexion explain the pains women pass through when they are denied the joy of marital conjugation. Her tears, self-fumbling and wishful ogling at men, reflect some of the pains and sorrows she undergoes.
Taking the play as a type in statecraft and nation building, Tambe stands for leaders that would never tell their subject the truth. They rather pass the bucks around, put the blames on someone else while they fail to do the needful. This many a time has forced the led to make wrong decisions.
Apart from effectively managing space, the director, Buchi Isaac, employed his ingenuity by using light and music to reflect the moody periods of Ako. These added effects, such that raised emotions and drew sympathy for Ako and the many women in her shoes. Some members of the audience whimpered as the play rounded off.
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