By Emmanuel Frank-Opigo
BACKSTORIES sometimes are the main story. ‘The Cross’ is such a case. Written by Prof. Ben Binebai and directed by Dr. Rudolph Kansese, both of the Theatre Arts Department of Bayelsa State’s Niger Delta University, the play is a new rendition of an old theme – the conflict between Christianity and the native gods. A time-worn theme, yes, but necessary because the play was written and produced “to order”.
Back in 2017, there was some drama at the Niger Delta University. There was a sudden change of guards – first in the positions of Deputy Vice Chancellors, and then in the position of Vice Chancellor. Professor Samuel Gowon Edoumiekumo became Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) and then Acting Vice Chancellor in quick succession. An ordained Pastor of the Deeper Life Bible Church, he quickly introduced two things that year. First was morning devotions EVERY DAY before work starts, and then an ANNUAL THANKSGIVING DAY set on December 12.
So, with the approach of the 5th Edition this year, the Vice Chancellor commissioned the Theatre Arts Department, for the first time, to stage a play with a relevant theme as a prelude to D-Day today. Thus ‘The Cross’ was born in just a few days.This review is of the stage performance, not of the script (understandably, as it was done “hot” off the stage, without access to the script). You can easily second-guess the cast: a King, a Juju Priest, a Christian Priest, the people. Christianity comes to the community, the Juju Priest resists and gets his followers to get hold of ‘The Cross” and bury it. Troubles befall the community, collectively and individually. The King seeks solutions; the Priest “divines” that the troubles are as a result of the Christian Priest attempting to exhume the Cross and recommends his sacrifice as atonement to the gods. The denouement in the palace sees him progressively being afflicted with stroke with each negative pronouncement against the Cross. The community then “sees the light” and embraces Christianity.
Yes, the theme is simple and time-worn, but the stage performance makes the difference between lack and lustre. And there is abundance of the latter, especially in the dances, where Rudolph Kansese excels. The Theatre Arts students have been so well groomed here they can hold their own against the State Council for Arts and Culture. In individual performance, the Juju Priest stood out. A Masters student of Theatre Arts, his mien and measured movements brought the play to life. The set and costumes were great too for a hurriedly put up performance.
Altogether, a good production as we CROSSover to the Thanksgiving Day on Sunday, December 12, 2021.
* Frank-Opigo, Director of Works and Services, Niger Delta University, is former Chairman of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), Bayelsa State Chapter