When Kenyan Theatre Disappoints

The Descent of Kenyan Theatre By Margaretta wa Gacheru Posted July 2012 Saturday Nation What a disappointment to see the depths to which Kenyan theatre has descended over a period I am not at liberty to chart. All I can speak of just now are the two plays I saw this past weekend which were frivolous, trivial, titillating and meant to be raucously witty, and in the case of Heartstrings Kenya’s Madam Kenyan President, uproariously comedic verging on the chaotic. Phoenix Players’ farce by two British playwrights, Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall, entitled Who’s Who? was not as devastating disappointing as MKP. But in both cases, one has to ask, what are we learning from such productions? We can see that Kenyan actors have talent. But why continue to choose trivial scripts by ex-patriot writers whose storylines are so unrelated to Kenyans’ everyday lives? Okay, men cheat on their wives the world over, but that fact didn’t make Who’s Who? come close to the Kenyan reality. Transferring the play’s setting from some British village to aMachakos hotel didn’t make the script come alive either. It is always a pleasure to see Samson Psenjan, JacqulineMungai and Mourad Sadat on stage. Doreen Mwajuma, the inquisitive wife out to catch her spouse cheating also gave an engaging performance. But honestly, all that running around the stage to pretend farce is the flavor of theatre that Kenyans truly enjoy, is a waste of energy on Phoenix’s part. All I can say is, thank goodness the Players have brought back Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun this weekend. Written by an African American woman in the 1950s, the play still resonates within a Kenyan context today. It’s about an impoverished urban family soon to come into a bit of cash and the struggles that ensue over that inheritance. Far more disheartening for me was Madam Kenya President, which had absolutely nothing to do with a female Kenyan head of state. In fact, Heartstrings assembled a crew of clever, witty women (BeataOtieno, Winnie Wangari, WanjiruKaranja and BaniceNthenya, TrisahKabue and Ann Kamau) who could have had a stab at being a ‘Madam Prez’. Instead, the women were relegated to playing office underlings and gossips who like the men, told jokes at other people’s expense. One waited patiently for two and a half hours for a bright, beautiful Kenyan woman leader to arrive on the Alliance Francaise stage. But no such luck. The least Heartstrings Kenya can do in future is give us a show with a title that correlates.

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