The Joy of Professor Abednego, Jerry Alagbaoso;
Kraft Books, Ibadan, 2018; pp 83
A comedy play consciously exaggerates characteristics for humorous effects intent on x-raying human foibles and hubris. William Shakespeare’s oeuvre is replete with such comedy plays as Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like, Comedy of Errors, to mention a few, woven around slapstick to hit a bull’s eye.
Jerry Alagbaoso has followed in the same tradition with a number of comedy plays set in Nigeria, establishing him as one of the masters of the dramatic sub-genre in the country. His latest comedy play, The Joy of Professor Abednego Jnr., is an exhilarating piece in eight scenes that can’t be defined as jejune.
No doubt, the first thing that greets a Nigerian migrant to the western world is the level of culture shock; behaviours regarded as queer at home are seen as normal abroad. Conforming to the individualistic lifestyle abroad is bound to exact a big price at home. This is the situation in Alagbaoso’s The Joy of Professor Abednego Jnr., where the returnee scholar, Professor Abednego Jnr., becomes a total misfit, to the disappointment of his parents, who laboured to train him in a foreign university, and the chagrin of his townsmen.
Among the themes explored in this play are the efficacy of prayers, unrequited love (especially by the American-trained professor, who, after many years spent abroad, returns empty-handed to his parents). The negative effect of foreign culture runs through the fabric of the play evidenced in the abuse of drugs and debased morality.
The smoking pipe, which Professor Abednego is synonymous with, is symbolic of eroded value. By puffing his cigar at will at almost everybody he comes across, Alagbaoso creates an archetypal felon in a conservative society, which holds virtues in esteem. Instead of being a symbol of
hope, this archetype lends himself to odium and ridicule.
Alagbaoso is a playwright who thrives on mimesis in dramaturgy. It is his own way of having a social conversation with the society. In this play, he is also concerned with parental greed. One of the major reasons Abednego Snr. decided to get him educated abroad is to lead him towards the path of riches. Greed is also manifested in the visiting members of the community to the Abednego family, who are expecting the returnee to lavish them with cash gifts. When the plot unfurls, laughter is sown. The family of Abednego Snr., a retired school principal, is frantic in their prayers. His two sons abroad, Professor Abednego Jnr, and Peter Abednego, a pilot, haven’t returned home since they travelled out. They want God to touch their hearts to return. Mrs Queen Abednego, the wife of the retired school hence: “…touch their hearts, Almighty God, towards returning home so as to assist us in this our old condition. This I pray in the mighty name of Jesus Christ” (p.19); and Mr Abednego Snr. adds: “Father Almighty, we struggled with our hard-earned salaries and sent our children abroad with good intentions. …. Touch the hearts of our children to return home now that we need them” (p.21).
It doesn’t take long for their prayers to be answered by God as one of the children, Professor Abednego Jnr., agrees to return home. When he arrives the community eventually, dressed in a cowboy’s white attire, he misses his way, and is shepherded home by a lady who saw him wandering with his luggage, looking for his parents’ house.
When the bag is opened later, after pressures mounted from family and friends, everybody is disappointed. Instead of hard currencies money inside, it contains books and cigarettes. Professor Abednego Jnr. is a fellow with no regard for royalty and community leaders. Even when he is rehabilitated with a teaching appointment in a university, he continues to be a moral dupe to his students.
Unlike the professor, Mr Tennison Ignatio, is represented as an alter ego. Upon his return to the community, he fits in perfectly, and becomes a fulfilled man with his own family. However, as we approach the denouement, Professor Abednego realises his mistakes, and apologises to his parents.
Stylistically, song is a technique deployed in the play by Alagbaoso to enhance the dramatics of the Abednegos. There is also clever handling of historicity in the play that isn’t outright pilory with references to Operation Python Dance, Operation Crocodile Tears, as well as an evasive reference to Evans the kidnapper, all events that took place as recent as 2017. This book is recommended to all, especially students.