[Not a Book Post]: “The Dilemma of a Ghost” written by Ama Aita Aidoo

…and performed by PTEM students.

I’m not going to comment on the performance as such, but I did have a few thoughts while watching.

The Dilemma of a Ghost is a a play written in 1964 by Ama Aita Aidoo, who Wikipedia tells me is not only the first published African woman dramatist, but also became the Minister of Education in Ghana in 1982!!! (She resigned after 18 months). (While writing this, I became kind of fascinated, but check out her Wiki page for more info*).

Anyway, The Dilemma of a Ghost is about this Ghanaian student Ato who graduates from some American university, and brings his African-American wife, Eulalie, back to Ghana with him. Eulalie and his family clash, with Ato in the middle, neither party able to understand the other’s ways. Eulalie thinks Ato’s family is primitive, and Ato’s family, having sacrificed so much to send him abroad to be a scholar, think she is selfish and demanding. Neither is right, neither is wrong, but translating is always an act of interpretation, and Ato, torn between the world he has seen and the world he has come from, has not reconciled his own place, let alone that of his wife’s. There’s a gorgeous moment of understanding at the end of the play, but a moment can’t replace a sustained willingness to work towards respect, welcome, and something a little more than tolerance.

Thoughts I had while watching Bruneian sixth-formers perform a Ghanaian play

  • It is SO relaxing to just WATCH a play instead of reading it, sometimes! And, if the play itself is good, it always makes me curious to both read the play and think about how differently it could come across with different performers/direction etc. It gives you a chance to think about the construction of dialogue, and how its “naturalness” depends on the performance.
  • Is this how people feel when listening to audiobooks? Note to self: Make 2017 the year I listen to my first audiobook.
  • “I am watching BRUNEIAN sixth formers perform a Ghanaian play!!!” It gave me a chance to reflect on how the American character in the play was just as performed as the Ghanaian characters. Neither booze nor thanksgiving rituals for the dead are the natural milieu for the majority of Bruneian students, and yet we perform (re-interpret) Shakespeare and Broadway shows all the time as if it’s somehow more natural.
  • There’s always a lot of dialogue about whether drama/theatre is MIB-compliant, what the parameters are if so, is it okay if the students don’t touch, have their aurat covered etc etc etc. Whether the idea of performance itself is inherently immodest. Today’s show was almost entirely MIB-compliant, if you’re interested, and I spent a lot of time intrigued by the costumes. Under the colourful Ghanaian shifts and headwraps, the students wore full black, covering everything, almost a blank canvas for the costumes in the way that skin might be. This has been common practice in a lot of the shows I’ve been to in Brunei….I’m still fleshing out a coherent thought for this, but I often come back to how stylized the full black underclothing is, and therefore how distracting it is. It foregrounds the cultural and religious practices of the performer in a medium (theatre) in which the norm is to foreground the text, the performance. I remember in Noel Streatfield’s Ballet shoes, the advice that the actress sister, Pauline, is given when she’s being a diva about performing as Alice in Alice in Wonderland – that the important thing is the text. The actress doesn’t matter in herself – it’s all about the words written and how well she can be a medium for those words, for that meaning.

I once watched another student production at JIS, of King Lear, and since then I’ve thought that if any Shakespearean play was Bruneian in spirit, that would be it. I had that feeling watching The Dilemma of a Ghost today. I don’t believe in art that is “universal”, but I think there are commonalities across some cultures, and this one tapped into some of those postcolonial wrenchings about going abroad, coming back home, and finding that the journey has made of you someone not quite easy in either world.

At least, not to begin with. Every home except our first and our final one, is one that has to be made by ourselves – adjusted to, learnt again, stood up for.

Kudos to my amazing friend and her colleagues at PTEM on a wonderful show.

*insert academic disclaimer about wikipedia here.

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