In Jero’s metamorphosis, Soyinka mirrors failed society, institutions
Napoleon 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 disenchanted, but dare not voice it out for fear of being humiliated.
While many take anything that comes from the clergy hook, line and sinker, some writers have gone ahead to document the flaws of religion, thus, creating room for discussions, as well as looking for ways to correct the ills.
Like the French revolutionist, Wole Soyinka is angry with the way Nigerians look at religion. In fact, he describes it as a trade. This is noticeable in his Jero’s Plays. He satirises religion and exposes the sly behaviours of church leaders.
Presented last Sunday by The Threesome Troupe, Lagos, the play, Jero’s Metamorphosis, set in Lagos, shows how church leaders utilise public spaces like the beach, meant for public relaxation, for their services and excesses.
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 (Taju Olumide) instructing his secretary, Sister Rebecca, to write invitation letters to other prophets 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 and wants to discuss this with his co-users of the place. The shrewd Jero plans to use the file and its contents to unite all the church leaders and also 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 lots of alcoholic drink before his arrival. His late appearance is to get the other prophets soaked in alcohol so that he could easily have his way.
By the time he arrives, most of the leaders were drunk and could not take any meaningful decisions. The meeting, however, goes on, but not as expected, as some of them discussed off points.
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 for who to head the church. Influenced by alcohol, they cast their votes in favour of Brother Jero over Pastor Shadrack (Deji Oke), his rival. Pastor Shadrack is a 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 acts 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 shows some church leaders as fraudulent and deceptive. It showcases some of our religious leaders lust for political power; how these leaders have abandoned the flock they are called to care for, in pursuit of commerce and other mundane things.
Produced by Nkem Enedu and directed by Michael Aina, its themes cut across leadership struggle, deception, lies, stealing, drunkenness and false lifestyle. It shows how those in authority are easily hoodwinked by religious leaders to do their bidding.
Although written in the 1960s, the timeliness of Jero’s Metamorphosis in its portrayal of Christianity today is as apt as when it was written. Indeed, Soyinka’s message remains: all religious organisations and heads, irrespective of their faith, should cleanse themselves of charlatanism.
Using the church to typify Nigeria, the play depicts how the political gladiators beguile the people to fight themselves, while they stay at the corner to harvest from the fight.
Though a lot of the actors showed naivety on stage, they tried to be their best. This showed in their body language and speech. In fact, most of them could not effectively interpret their roles. They merely recited their lines.
But Brother Jero (Taju Olumide) made up for what the other cast members lacked. His dances, body language and expression left the audience with the impression that he was actually 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 did not sync with the performance. It would have been better to make them wear the dummy of various ranks on green French suites or something similar to that.
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