A seven-act melodrama about a group of friends navigating life in a beleaguered African country.
In Odoe’s debut play, a poor man in the fictional African country of Erega is desperate to get medical attention for his pregnant wife. Extortionate doctors eventually treat the man’s wife; they can’t save her, but they successfully deliver the baby, Chidi, who, after becoming his father’s mainstay in life, dreams of attending the local university. In a series of quick, bare-bones scenes, Odoe portrays the boy as surrounded by people every bit as corrupt as the doctors who brought him into the world: Bogus apothecaries adulterate their drugs and inflate their prices, street vendors collude with each other to rip off every customer, college admissions officials demand large bribes and then don’t deliver on their promises, bus drivers bilk their customers, and all road traffic is subject to nearly inevitable banditry. Chidi and the friends he makes in college are eager not to right the wrongs of their society but to become rich (“No more poverty forever!” they vow) through high-handed government work. Evidently, citizens from all walks of life are equally venal: Employment officials expect sex in exchange for job placement, professors ignore their responsibilities in order to vie for the affections of “babes” in their classes, and pastors and cult leaders are virtually indistinguishable. In these stiff scenes, a moral point is all they have to offer. The characters talk in the same stilted, arch phrases, and any natural human drama is sacrificed to underscore the author’s point: Greed and corruption lurk everywhere in the rotten government system. The text is littered with lines that read like clumsy translations (“Her joy knows no bounds as she basks in her newfound joy,” etc.) and typos abound—glaring editorial mishaps that distract from what might have conveyed a certain Brechtian bleakness.
An earnest but ultimately uninvolving look at the underbelly of a corrupt nation.