THE aphorism, ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ unfolds itself in the play Grip Am, staged under the Live Theatre on Sunday project recently.
Written by the late playwright, Prof. Ola Rotimi, Grip Am chronicles the life of a couple — Ise and Aso — who resides in an agrarian community.
Ise, an impoverished peasant, would have been happier maintaining a low profile, but for his wife, Aso, who constantly reminds him of his wretchedness. In fact, she nags him, which always result to a fight.
The farmer’s problems was compounded when one evening he returns from the farm hungry, with the unruly wife not ready to prepare his food; so, he decides to pluck some fruits from his orange tree, but soon discovers that the fruits are no more there. The children in the neighbourhood have taken them. This grieves him, especially when the wife describes the orange tree as nothing worth caring for.
To prevent further intrusion, Ise ties some charm on the stem of the tree, yet the stealing continues. It, even, becomes one of the causes of the almost constant fight in the couple’s home.
However, events take a new turn when in the midst of their regular squabbles, an angel from Orumila (a Yoruba deity) turns up; not only to make peace, but to take their personal requests to God. The condition for the request to get to God is that their individual wishes must not be more than one.
Ise, then, sees the demand as a means to arm himself with power to punish anyone he catches plucking his oranges, including children. So, he asks for the power to make anyone he sees on his orange tree be gummed to it for as long as he chooses whenever he says grip am. The divine messenger, who had expected he would ask for something more demanding, persuades him to ask for another thing, but he won’t change his mind.
Surprisingly, Aso asks for the power to command Death to take her husband whom he considers a pain in the neck, since he has chosen to live a wretched live.
Not long, Ise’s landlord who had come for his rent falls victim. He comes to Ise to collect his accumulated rent, sights an orange on the tree while waiting for the arrival of the impoverished farmer and just as he attempts to pluck it Ise returns; seeing him, he shouts, grip am — instantly he is gummed to the tree.
After making the landlord to go through pains, Ise gives him conditions for his freedom, which include writing off his accumulated rent and forfeiting his house to him. These, he quickly accept to free him from the condition.
Aso reprimands Ise for using crooked means to get a house; but just at the nick of starting a fight with the wife Death comes for him and the wife commands him (Death) to take the husband away.
Confident that Ise will follow him to the land of no return, Death gives him some time to prepare himself. While preparing to die, he appeals to Death to pluck him an orange from his orange tree. Not thinking twice, Death obliges and Ise says his magic words and Death gets glued.
Like the landlord, he pleas for mercy and swears never to kill him if freed. Ise frees him and he flees not completing his mission.
Realising that Ise’s request is not useless after all, at least he has used it to make the landlord cancel his debts, dispossess him of his house and chase away Death from their lives, Aso braces her husband and they lived happily afterwards.
The comedy, a reflects on power, shows how man can change his fortune for good with his meagre or almost inconsequential resources. It also reflects on occurrences in politics, where a leader gets to power and instead of using his office to improve his society, uses it to witch-hunt his enemies and enrich himself and his cronies.
According to the producer, Adenugba Olushola, Grip Am is symbolic of Nigeria with its abundant natural and human resources, yet most of its citizens are living in abject poverty. The orange tree that is the main attraction in the play depicts the nation’s commonwealth, which the rich and powerful have always deprived the poor from getting; and each time they make frantic attempts to get it the rich and powerful shout grip am.
Commenting on the play, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, a veteran actress, who was in the audience said, “Grip Am is a food for thought for all of us as a nation and individuals. Aso has nothing positive to offer; women make the home, they also have the power to make their men to be whatever they want them to be. But in her own case, she abuses her husband. It’s just the same way a lot of us, Nigerians, complain all the time without doing anything positive to change the situation.”
The elegant septuagenarian matron of the art, Ajai-Lycett stated that Nigerians are endowed with the best resources in the world, but if we don’t prove that to the world, those with less endowment will take over and we will remain at the bottom.”
Deleke Gbolade, the director of the play, informed that his group is trying to bring back the theatre culture with the production.
His words: “We are just trying to reclaim the lost glory of the theatre culture. We are putting up billboards, radio jingles, newspaper adverts and have opened a website to create the necessary awareness. We are also on Facebook.”