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The Audition… An actor’s ordeal

A scene from the play

It was the late, Dr. Chuba Wilberforce Okadigbo, who said, he that aspires for greatness should be ready to sponsor it. This axiom of the seasoned Nigerian politician, a one time President of the Senate, was enacted in a play, The Audition, at the Freedom Park, Lagos, as one of the plays that rounded off the six-day British Council Lagos Theatre Festival, last Sunday.

Written by James Johnson, the play centres on Lauren (Jessica Uja), a 20 year-old arts student and wannabe actress, who wants to be famous. She reads about an audition for a play in a newspaper and applies to actualise her dream of becoming a star. Lauren meets Stella (Maryann Eziekwe), a director in her late 30s at the audition. Stella insists on knowing her better before accepting her for a role.

Lauren recounts how she at the age of eight was raped by a trusted close relative, which made her recline to herself, especially when her parents and the parents of the rapist, did nothing serious about the matter or punished the evil-minded uncle. She grows up to suffer Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), losing self-confidence and always craving to be someone else. But seeing the advert in a newspaper, she applies with the hope to secure a place and, perhaps, through acting become a star and lead the life she wants.

Self-assured that she could act, Lauren soon realises that getting a role in a play goes beyond what one thinks or feels about oneself, when she meets Stella, who is not only interested in her naiveness, but also wants to know her beyond the stage.

Knowing whom Lauren now is, Stella, an emotionally detached maverick with elusive motives, sets out to train Lauren to forget her past, so that she could regain her self-worth and be the person she wants; a star. She sympathises with Lauren and desires to make her become a better actress, if she cooperates with her.

Holding strong views about how an audition should be conducted, how the person auditioning should be tested and what should and should not be, Stella almost pushed Lauren into mental, physical and emotional wreck with her exercises. She makes the tyro go through a series of increasingly probing and dubious acting exercises during each day’s auditions, which is very much one-to-one.

Close to breaking point, Stella subjects Lauren to alcohol, drugs and mind games, as part of the audition and obliterating process. This condition, according to the director, is to enable her find an answer to one question: How far an actress could go to get a part in a play?

Creating a situation that appears like a cyclorama of themes bordering on psychosis, murder, hard-drug abuse, incest, suicide and rape, the play gives an insight into the mindsets of the examiner and the examined; revealing how one’s passion for a dream could make him or her bend, especially when under the tutelage of an ambitious and firm mentor.

In the words of Dr. Okadigbo, Lauren pays the price of rising to stardom by submitting to Stella’s callous handling, as she changes from her old dirty, self-pitying past to a lively person that could work with anybody.

The two-man act is hard-hitting, suggestive and revealing. It is not your everyday play, where children or those below 18 could comfortably watch or be allowed to take part as casts.

Despite the good performance, the cast still has its shortcomings. Lauren falls below expectation on the scene in which she was made to recall her past. While recalling those ugly past that was full of pains, distrust, injustice, haplessness and abuse, she ought to have allowed some teardrops to reflect her bad mood and also to show that she detested what she got. Her dry eyes, even though she seems to lose her voice made the scene flat and her words appear like a mere recitation of lines. Here, Lauren appears too cosmetic. Also, the director should have used lights to reflect the ambience of the painful experiences, inform of flashback; allowing the scene to just go through, making it appear like another scene, while it is supposed to be a scene in a scene.

However, what she lacked in that scene, she made up with the release of herself for the wandering hands of a mischievous director to run through her sensitive parts. This is a plus for the stage, as this happened naturally.

In fact, the consistent worried glances of Lauren into the audience in moments of her torture by Stella seem to mean: ‘Is this what you really want from me?’ It also underscores Lauren’s psychological instability and low self esteem; not being able to say no to Stella’s advances depicts this.

Still on characterization, Stella’s change of mood from a sadist to a kind-hearted and sympathetic person was too abrupt, this change should have been gradual bearing in mind that all the while Lauren unveiled her past, Stella remained stable and unperturbed. But in a twist of event, this sadistic feeling gave way. One had expected to see a gradual change, but all the same, she put up a nice performance. Her role interpretation was outstanding, especially with the way she puffed her cigarettes, putting on the devil may care attitude.

Despite this, the duet puts up a marvelous show. Their words flowed freely, while Lauren’s constant eye contacts with the audience held them spellbound and sometime engaged them in a call-and-respond situation. Their body movements also synchronised with their words, thus showing that actors and actresses sometimes go through horrible experiences to appear in plays or movies.