Wrinkled Facesplays on a popular theme – the struggles that people go through to succeed in life.
Set in Africa, the play’s central thesis is that naively conceived notions for self improvement often end in disaster — a kind of “theatre for undevelopment”.
Like so many overly ambitious and simplistic Africans, Isabirye, the play’s central character goes to great length to “buy” for a visa to fly abroad for greener pastures. He sells off most of his assets, in a dubious quest to fly abroad. Excited by his big plans, Isabirye’s family look forward to the pending flow of cash when their father and breadwinner goes overseas. It seems quite obvious to them that when the dollars from Isabirye’s sweat start to flow in, it will provide a vaccine to all their financial problems.
This is a popular story within Africa and perhaps may explain why many of the continent’s able-bodied hands have deserted the continent for greener pastures abroad. In gripping acts, Ssebunga Masembe sets on a path of unveiling the horrors of this rather broadly accepted misconception. Deeply touching is the very viral outcome. Isabirye’s adventure goes sour, and the pain spreads across an entire village.
For Nabirye, the wife of the wandering money-hunter, the pinch of having to provide for the family on her own starts to bite hard. Her grass thatched house begins to leak, food is hard to find, and the school dues for the children become unaffordable. The stage at this level is set for something more bizarre. No dollars, no hope, famished and lonely— wrinkled faces!
What do unschooled men do when they travel abroad looking for jobs? The playwright seems to ask. The answers could be many indeed, but certainly nothing less compromising. Because when our main man returns after a spell of eight sweaty years, the embarrassment of deportation is not enough, he is thrown into jail.
Put together, the play attacks several ills that have come to define the African communities today; consent to corruption, greed, a pessimism that lingers on home-phobia, and a general failure of all institutions — a thing that Ugandan journalist and political critic, Andrew Mwenda has termed “institutionalized incompetence”.
Attacking the global drug trade, the author laments how the phenomenon has acquired a kind of soft acceptance as drug-lords work in open conspiracy with police establishments. The very institutions charged with ensuring law and order instead take bribes with unprecedented audacity.
At the level of aesthetics, Wrinkled Faces blends the genres of grim comedy and social drama. And with a good director, one that can manage irony and flashback with ease, the play makes for good theatre. The setting is very nostalgic especially for cosmopolitan audiences; scrubby gardens and rowdy domestic animals, animal-owner versus crops-owner quarrels, and so on. But the author’s point hits home; shortcuts to success often end in disaster.