Nigeria: verbal gymnastics and "Virginia Wolfe on Quaaludes"


Remember your mother telling you to finish your dinner because children were starving in Africa? As its central motif, ‘Nigeria’ contrasts the spiritual wealth of Africa with the obsession with monetary wealth, spiritual bankruptcy and ennui of life in West Vancouver. In spite of its dazzling verbal gymnastics, the play often feels clichéd. And then, in a refreshing u-turn, the playwright questions the authenticity of his own premise.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Quelemia Sparrow as Kris is superbly crisp and confident, while harboring a barely contained desperation. A high-powered, wheeler and dealer in the financial markets, Kris wears a thong, sleeps with married men and is running as fast as she can, striving to stay ahead of the pack and not, god forbid, become one of the “little people.”

Joan as played by Jody-Kay Marklew is as subtle a portrayal of a caricature as can be hoped for. Joan is the wife of Sebastian, a character, much like Godot, who is central to the story but never appears.; Joan is Virginia Wolfe on a heavy dose of Quaaludes and white wine. Her sniping is mostly sotto voce, which is a shame, since her cutting asides offer much-needed comic relief. When she does finally take the gloves off, sadly it is to display the aforementioned thong.

Josh Drebit as Peter shines in the precious moments when the beating heart of the play is given voice.

Peter is a gnome of a man who we first see sitting on a sofa, clad in an African print caftan, chanting a ditty he picked up on his travels. We soon learn that Peter, the mystic, just up and left one day, left Joan the love of his life with nary a goodbye. In the interim, Joan has married a wealthy, philandering prick who keeps her in loveless luxury in a West Vancouver mansion. I found myself wondering how long Peter had been gone, since Joan’s wounds are still festering yet she’s been married to Sebastian long enough to loathe him. ‘Nigeria’ lacks physicality. It could easily be a radio play.

Director, David Bloom introduced the play by thanking the sponsors for affording the company the luxury of working intensively with the text by playwright Martin Gover, and thus mitigated the bare bones staging. ‘Nigeria’ is definitely worth seeing. I only wish that the text had delved deeper, cut to the heart of the matter and given the characters more substance and humanity.

By Gloria Davies