African Drama and Performance

Article excerpt

African Drama and Performance. Edited by John Conteh-Morgan and Tejumola Olaniyan. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2004. Pp. 274. $49.95 cloth, $21.95 paper.

African Drama and Performance is a comprehensive study of drama and performance in Africa from traditional to contemporary times and encompasses the oral and the written, rural and urban performance, and popular culture and the elite avant-garde. Based on thematic affinities, the book is divided into five parts: general context, intercultural negotiations, radical politics and aesthetics, popular expressive genres and the performance of culture, and the social as drama. In its eighteen chapters, contributors cover issues of theory and practice of drama and performance as well as discussion of specific dramatic and performance modes and works.

The background materials of drama and performance derive from cultural, social, political, and historical happenings in people's lives. In the opening chapter, Wole Soyinka's address to the African Union underscores the political underpinnings of modern African theatre, especially in the dictatorship syndrome that his play King Baabu satirizes. Joachim Fiebach addresses "symbolic actions" in traditional Africa and the acting-out of power structures that are also manifest in class and gender conflicts. While Johannes Fabian finds theatricality reflecting the culture, Ato Quayson sees theatre as "a minimal paraphrase of life in the continent" (p. 46).

The second part of the book that deals with "intercultural negotiations" is one of the most incisive and interesting to me because the authors deal with specific texts. Isidore Okpewho shows in "Soyinka, Euripides, and the Anxiety of Empire" that he is as well informed about the Greek world of Euripides as about Soyinka's Nigeria and concludes that despite Soyinka's attempts to distance himself from the Greek dramatist, there are many parallels in their works. John Conteh-Morgan finds the Burkinabé Sylvain Bemba's use of the Greek Antigone myth affected by circumstances surrounding Thomas Sankara's death. Two other chapters in this section deal respectively with the adaptation of Macbeth and the appropriation of Yoruba mythology into an African-American context.

The third section of the book examines the radical politics and aesthetics of specific African dramatists. Tejumola OIaniyan sees the "uncommon sense" in Osofisan's plays. Nicholas Brown sees art at war with the state in Ngugi's plays and historical happenings such as the death of the popular politician J. M. Kariuki informing Dedan Kimathi, while I Will Marry When I Want is shaped by possibilities of change that would later be dashed in the failed coup in Kenya. Dominic Thomas, examining the work of Sony Labou Tansi, observes a variety of influences, the recurrent theme of madness, and the transformative power of drama. …