A black average modern Zimbabwean family seems to be escalating toward perilous phase that could create some form of disunity in the family and possibly in a not-so-distant future, lead to relatives not seeing eye to eye.
‘A prayer for Grandma’ , a tragic, melancholic, humorous and all in all delightful play by Elliot Moyo opened recently at the National Art Gallery of Zimbabwe, in Bulawayo.
Inscribed with an all-new, unique balance of theatrical fearlessness and naturalism, which also felt like a documentary, and directed with excellent aptitude, one can say the tragic-comedy depicts the way we live now. Moyo managed to evoke compassion, emotion, exactness and consideration unmatched by any play I have seen this year.
The story follows the exploits of a broken family which is forced to come together, under one roof to save their ailing Grandmother (who in this case is referred to as ‘Grandma’). Inspired by lived experiences and the world around him, Moyo found it ironic how an unfortunate event such as illness and eventually death could become the stepping stone towards healing a family’s conflicts and moving on.
The cast includes award winning spoken word poet, BlackLily who plays the role of Faith, a jilted housewife trying to move on from a failed relationship. Outstanding hip-hop artist, Barry Changa who was behind the once popular Eversharp 15m animated rap advert acting as Henry, Faith’s cheating ex-husband who is still pining for her. Award winning house singer TKP acts as Beauty, Faith’s estranged and bitter sister with an attitude. Seasoned young actor, poet and musician Andie Clarence Dube is Mtha, Faith’s unwanted brother-in-law with a hidden secret. Also in the play are model and rapper Faizil acting as Doctor Midzi, the surgeon with a hidden agenda; as well as the incredibly talented screen actress Sheron Dube acting as Mama, the housewife with a guilty conscience.
Although women still seem to play a marginal role in official politics in Zimbabwe, they hold a key role in society. Some would say that women are better peacemakers than men, in this play, it’s arguably obvious that Moyo is depicting that notion.
In the play, the family is disjointed and distant. The characters, could represent some real families we may know. A family with robust bonds, little hidden angers and the kind of predicaments ripping of the fabric of middle class families in Zimbabwe – with unresolved problems.
Similar to some real life experiences, the play somewhat showed how much secrecy lies in families. The writer did well in showing that people especially women live their lives without sharing their feelings with family – only to suffer in silence. Beauty, pretended to be happily married and that all was rosy with her high school sweet heart, Mtha, whom she married at the age of 22. They fought a great deal and that started to strain their union. The dispute involved children. Beauty wasn’t ready to become a mother, all she wanted was to pursue her studies first.
Moyo’s play seems to fall along the lines of Mother Teresa’s words, “The woman is at the heart of the home Let us pray that we women realise the reason for our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world”. The play also contains hints, stereotypes and possible reminders that women are unifiers.
Only a good spirit could bring these two warring sides together and as it turns out, it is Grandma’s unconditional love which heals them all, despite her own illness. How Grandma, manages to bring the jigsaw pieces together and leave a legacy even after her death?, remains a mystery.
The vision of the play, according to Moyo, was to show that something good comes out of bad situations.
“The main thing that I noticed is that funerals don’t only bring out the bad, it seems like a good thing sometimes. When someone dies, for instance, ugogo (grandma) dies, and that became the only way of uniting a family that was at the verge of breaking completely,” he said.
What makes the play stand out is reiterated humour, courtesy of Henry. He has a way of bringing out humour even in the most sensitive situations. When actors get emotional, Henry creates a diversion. Henry likes himself, the way he is, he says “phela mina ngiyi outtie egrand” (I am a great guy). The contrast between what he says and his looks generates a lot of humour.
All the actors in A Prayer for Grandma are at their finest. Henry’s cheerfulness, humour and warmth are as always enjoyable, Mama, is an honest person. Faith and Beauty have a good sisterly relationship. Dr Midzi has one of the smaller roles, but he helps the family have dinner with their Grandma inside a hospital ward, which makes him appear to be a good person although his intentions are to help Faith whom he also likes.
The setting used for this appearance is on point. There are no clatters. It is not difficult to differentiate what is what, who is who, the scene, the environment – are both convenient. Moyo coordinates the complex action and shifting emotional flows with admirable skill.
For while A prayer for Grandma is on the surface a convincingly drawn play about a family facing numerous calamities. Moyo, employs a formula to show more intensely that at times death is kind to us and that the wisdom of women brings the best in us.
This article was written by Nokuthaba Mathema, a freelance journalist and blogger who is also a women’s rights and HIV/AIDS activist. Her passion lies in human rights advocacy. She is also the winner of the Her Zimbabwe Young Female Freelance Journalist competition.
Main image by Nokuthaba Mathema