ESU AND THE VAGABOND MINSTRELS by Femi Osofisan, directed by Ayodele Adewumi (AfriCan Theatre Ensemble). At the Young Centre (55 Mill, bldg 49). To October 28. $25, some discounts. 416-866-8666. See Continuing, page 72. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
The five central figures in Nigerian playwright Femi Osofisan's Esu And The Vagabond Minstrels would understand the Tories' arts funding cuts and resulting hard times facing Canadian artists.
Thrown out of work by a government that cares nothing for the arts, the five musicians have become displaced drifters. As the story begins, they've come to a crossroads to steal food left by worshippers for the god Esu, intermediary between humans and the head deities.
Osofisan's play-within-a-play is a parable about doing good for its own sake rather than worrying about financial rewards. The five musicians are given a magical power to help someone else, but only one of them does good solely for the thanks he receives. The others are promised wealth, to be doubled by the trickster god Esu if they do well.
Director Ayodele Adewumi fills the simple production with song, dance and energy that go a long way toward offsetting dropped lines and the dialogue's sometimes ragged rhythms.
If there's an ongoing problem, it's the use of recorded music and song in addition to live singing; when the vocalizing isn't in synch, the bilingual lyrics are often unintelligible.
Several cast members are particularly strong, notably Lucky Ejim as the lead minstrel, the playful Donald Carr as one of his associates, Anna Aidoo as the village chief and Muoi Nene in several roles, including the director who stages the compassion-versus-greed tale.