Thumbs Up for Phoenix Players’ Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday Hilarity at Phoenix Players By Margaretta wa Gacheru Posted September 22, 2012 Saturday Nation, Nairobi Affairs abound in the latest Phoenix Players’ theatrical fare entitled Happy Birthday by the French-Italian playwright Marc Camoletti. It’s light and frothy affair with both hubby Bernard (Jack Gitonga) and his wife Jacqueline (Lizz Njagah) being cheats and having serious flings with ‘friends’ neither spouse knows about. Jacqueline’s is with Robert (Maina Olwenya) who also happens to be her husband’s best pal. Meanwhile, Bernard is so bold as to invite his mistress Brigit (Shiviske Shivisi) to come stay for the weekend. To cover his tracks and keep his wife occupied, he also invites Robert along, intending to have him pretend that Brigit is his girlfriend, not Bernie’s. But once Robert hears his buddy’s undercover plan, he resists adamantly, knowing the deception won’t work. Either Jackie will trust Robert and know her husband is a lying cheat or else she will believe Bernard and despise Robert for ‘two-timing’ her. Either way, the scheme is messy, duplicitous and too complicated to work. What’s amusing, of course, is seeing a cheater like Robert suddenly having scruples and protesting about being asked to lie! What’s also fun about him is that every time he lies to his lover Jacqueline, his voice quivers and quakes since he’s caved in and bowed to the wishes of his buddy. What tops off the hilarity however is when the ‘wrong’ Brigit walks in. Maggy Karanja plays Brigit the mobile maid and ‘temp’ who’s been hired by Jacqueline to stay and work around the house for that one weekend so that the hostess can ‘entertain’ her house guests. A case of ‘mistaken identity’ can always be a rib-tickler if the cast chemistry works, and in this case, director George Mungai handled his casting very well. When Brigit the maid is erroneously identified by Robert as Bernard’s mistress Brigit, the amusement takes a twist and turns right side up. The maid is no dummy and once she realizes her role in Bernard’s master plan, she essentially blackmails both guys for double, then quadruple her regular temp’s fee! The fact that Jackie gets furious with Rob – up until she finally figures out it’s her husband who is the louse – is also laughable. There is humor to be found in this level of hypocrisy, especially as the maid has a ball playing the part, first of Rob’s mistress, then of his ‘niece’. The heat gets turned up to ‘hot’ when the mistress Brigit walks in a half hour late and finds everything upside down. She is now meant to celebrate her ‘happy birthday’ being the maid in the kitchen, which is normally alien terrain for her. The plot thickens still further when the mistress and the secret lover have space to be alone. The unexpected, or rather, that which you might expect from two spare wheels who find they have quite a bit in common as they are both cheaters who have little to lose once they take a fancy to one another. The big winner is this whole ‘mistaken identity’ mess is the maid Brigit. She walks away with the mink, the hefty cheque and the last laugh on the whole lot. So despite the fact that I’m terribly bored with British tales of farcical infidelity and lust that so many local theatre groups are serving Nairobi audiences on a regular basis, I found Happy Birthday a load of laughs, I confess. In part it was the acting and excellent casting. At the same time, the Franco-Italian factor might have meant the adult humor was more nuanced, the infidelity more flippant but less overtly foolish and farcical. In any case, there are ‘winds of change’ breezing through the Professional Center right now, what with the management undergoing a transformation that could be a good thing. Either way, I’m giving the Phoenix a thumbs’ up this time round.


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