A Point Between Black and White

Things are not always what they seem. Grey Area, a stage play by BP Productions showed this much during its performance at the MUSON Centre’s Agip Recital Hall on Sunday, June 3rd.

Screen talents Wale Ojo and Elfreda Rowland, who was last seen in some early Nollywood films play the lead roles in the stage play directed by Michael Asuelime. Ojo had previously worked with the director on Same Page, another stage performance which starred Nse Ikpe Etim and O.C. Ukeje. It was a joy to see the talented but under-utilised Rowland return to the stage. Also in the play are Michael Asuelime Jr., twin brothers Kunbi and Kunle Adeleke, and Ajibade Omisade from the popular TV series Livin’ in Lagos.

A tale of two young lovers separated at a time of crisis, Grey Area opens in a church. Sunday service is in full swing with the choir’s rendition of the Halleluyah Chorus from Handel’s ‘Messiah’. The sweet voices are however not enough to cover the tension below as the mostly unlit performance space gives off a foreboding ambience. A large dark backdrop with a stained glass motif is draped behind the stage and as the action unravels, there is the feeling that God is watching you. But the congregation seems unaware of this.

The choir performing at the start of the play. Images courtesy BP Productions

After the Priest (Ojo) ends his pontificating on corrupt leadership and how each individual can create positive change, it is time for some of the wolves to shed their sheep’s clothing. Joseph, a young chorister (Asuelime Jr.) throws off his choral robes in a tantrum. His friends cannot get him to give a reason why he is always angry. The Priest tries to intervene but gets an earful from the young chap, who believes the whole world is against him. His uncle, who is also the church’s choirmaster (Omisade) rushes to the scene to get his nephew to apologise.  The choirmaster reveals to the Priest that the boy has a troubled upbringing. Joseph’s mother has convinced him that his father is dead despite her beliefs to the contrary. Now, her family is more on the edge as it seems Joseph might have discovered the truth about his father.

“Where is his mother?” the Priest queries the boy’s uncle. But Joseph’s mother, Stella (Rowland) has long given up on religion preferring to dwell on her anger at the man she believes abandoned her because she was pregnant. It is no surprise when later that day, Stella turns up in confession, spending so much time in the box that an angry churchgoer accuses her of taking up more time than ten sinners would need to pour out their hearts.

Elfreda Rowland plays single mother Stella in ‘GREY AREA’

Stella fears that Joseph overheard her conversation speculating on the uncertainty around his father’s death. Her trip to confession is to seek counsel on whether or not she should tell all to her eight-year-old son. But as Stella gradually opens up to the Priest, a reversal of roles occurs and the Priest finds himself admitting to Stella that he was also jilted by a woman he once loved. Stella probes further leading the Priest to confess in an outburst that “I still have feelings.”

As both Stella and the Priest interplay the confessor’s role, there is an inclination towards the story’s likely conclusion. The Priest’s gestures hint at a dark secret and when – after confession – he breaks into a song usually not heard in a church, we see that even the Priest has had an inglorious past. If one had expected to hear some organ music at this point, you would be disappointed. Songs in the play included country hits such as 70s love ballad ‘Always On My Mind’, and ‘Islands in the Stream’ by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.

The producers got most things right with this 60-minute performance. The acting, costume, light and set design make up for the holes that could be picked in the script itself. Is it possible that despite Joseph and his uncle closeness to the church, Stella takes so long to discover that the truth about her husband’s whereabouts lies in the church? The denouement is rushed leaving the audience little time to enjoy what revelations turn up, a paucity of thrilling twists make Grey Area more of jejune diet than a well-prepared gourmet dish. I was hardly satisfied.

Overall, the good intentions behind Grey Area are obvious and it throws up a number of questions which it also tries to answer: Is there a point between black and white known as ‘grey’? Does ‘yes’ or ‘no’ suffice to answer certain questions?

What the performance achieves most powerfully though is a campaign against assumptions and jumping to conclusions. If questions had been asked and misconceptions clarified, the lovebirds would not have wasted eight years of their lives nurturing love’s ‘wounds’.


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