Bonds: The Zebra Lounge Helps Drama Students Break Free
By Luke Krzyzanowski, Spring 2004
"Pray for Nigeria." Thus echo out the last words of the play "Bonds" written and directed by Sola Fashun. Staged at the Zebra Lounge and set in a Nigerian jail cell in the spring of 1993, the play centers around an African-American exchange student, Lara Lafe (Ann Flanigan), jailed for demonstrating against the Nigerian government dictatorship.
In that decrepit jail cell, a hole in the ground serving as the only lavatory, the 20-year-old Lara meets Mrs. Obi (Christina Acosta), an older Nigerian woman who has spent a number of her recent years in prison for the political activities of her executed husband. The interaction between Lara and Mrs. Obi is less than cordial. The cultural differences between the two women lead to contempt and quarrelsome behavior which reaches its crescendo when they have to be broken apart by the prison guards (Kofi Darkwa and Brian Orr).
Another prisoner, Yinka (Kami Smith), is brought in badly beaten, a product of the Nigerian extra-legal system. Mrs. Obi recognizes the wounded Yinka as a former friend and the wife of the man who betrayed her husband. Flying into a rage, Mrs. Obi attempts to beat Yinki to death with the only thing that is available to her, Lara's inhaler, breaking it in the process. This proves to be an omen for Lara as her asthma flares up due to the stress of her imprisonment, her quarrels with Mrs. Obi and the confrontation between Mrs. Obi and Yinki.
Despite their emotional rollercoaster, Mrs. Obi and Yinki put aside their antagonism in an attempt to help Lara avoid another asthma attack. Desperate for an inhaler, Mrs. Obi even sacrifices dignity and provides her body to one of the guards in exchange for a new inhaler which never materializes. The guard plays dumb to ever agreeing to get one.
Despite efforts by Kenneth Dune (Darren Canady), an American Consulate lawyer, freeing Lara proves impossible because she unwittingly signed a confession of treason written in the native language. Upon realizing that she may never leave the prison, Lara has an emotional breakdown that is followed by an asthma attack, her last.
"Bonds" proves to be a finely acted and well-written play. African drums played by Herb Miller and Brandon Paluzzi help in setting a genuinely African ambience and serve as tools for scene transitions. The decorum of the Zebra Lounge, with the zebra-stripped chairs, adds to a similarly African atmosphere.
"Bonds" certainly attempts to deal with multiple issues that continue to affect parts of Africa today. Freedom unmistakably takes a front seat. Lara's last few words include the powerful phrase, "If I can't be free I'd rather die." All three women are bonded together through suffering and the common desire for freedom.
Tribal strife is presented as the key to the oppressive political system. Although somewhat under-explored, the connection between power and tribal dominance there. The play can be forgiven for skirting this issue due to its enormous complexity.
"Bonds" shows a snapshot of the world that Americans are unaccustomed to, a world without freedom, where the law of powerful men rather than the power of law takes precedence.