Hearts of Art’s original new show at National Theatre

Scars, saints and stilettos, a stunning premier at National Theatre By Margaretta wa Gacheru, 22 September 2012. Hearts of Art founder – director Walter Sitati is a seasoned storyteller and the first Kenyan playwright to produce a script that directly tackles the topic of post-election violence 2007-2008 and its aftereffects. His Scars, Saints and Stilettos premiers last Saturday night at the Kenya National Theatre, Sitati’s third original script staged there since the start of the year. Sitati is by no means of newcomer to the challenging work of writing plays which explore timely and relevant topics that relate to contemporary Kenya. He started drafting and directing original scripts while still an undergraduate in the Film and Drama Department at Moi University in 2004.But where he got into writing as a way of winning awards and speaking to a broader audience was when he taught at St. Cecilia Girls Secondary School and some of his scripts went with the girls to the finals of the Kenya Schools Drama Festival. Currently a post-graduate candidate at Daystar University, Sitati formed Hearts of Arts out of an artistic impulse and the need to cultivate the creative process through plays that he could both script and stage himself. Calling local actors on Facebook to come audition for a new theatre company, he was stunning by the many hundreds who answered the call. “It showed me there are thousands of young people out there who want a chance to prove themselves on stage,” said the playwright-producer who also acts and directs. Auditioning all 700 would-be actors wasn’t easy, but it did ensure that Sitati was able to select young Kenyans who could actually act. This was apparent last Saturday night when Scars, Saints and Stilettos told the story of two families from different ethnic communities who were attacked during that horrific period when Kenyans were uncharacteristically vicious and violent towards one another. That period is only seen briefly in an ugly flashback an angry mob from Jamili’s (John Kamau) own ethnic group attacks him for trying to defend his own home and that of his best friend. His house and family survive intact, but Jamili’s friend Manzo (Walter Sitati) watches his home and business go up in smoke. The only thing Jamili loses is his “manhood” which is chopped off as payback for ‘betraying’ his ethnic group by protecting his best pal. So for last last five years, Manzo and his family have been living under Jamili’s roof. Both men have a wife, daughter and son; but the two families are as different as night and day. Jamili is generous beyond words, meanwhile Manzo cheats on his best friend by first seducing his daughter Jesse (Beatrice Wachuka), and thereafter seducing the wife Hela (Ellsey Okoth). Betrayal is a major theme in this well told tale, as Manzo not only steals the daughter’s innocence; he breaks her heart by dumping her for ‘another woman’ who happens to be her mother. Meanwhile, Manzo’s daughter, Trish (Gloria Numgari), who looks lost inside her mobile cell phone and Facebook is actually recording the whole sordid set of affairs on social media. In the end, Manzo gets exposed after Jesse takes revenge on the shameless louse (who even ‘borrows’ money from his buddy to take Jamila’s wife Hela out on the town). When all of Manzo’s garbage ‘hits the fan’, he’s attacked both verbally by Hela and physically by Leslie (Grace Waihuini) his wife. He’s even shot by Jamili’s son Nibo (Boni Ndonye). But the real kicker is when everyone learns that Trish has recorded the whole story, blow by blow, on Facebook. What’s amazing and slightly unreal about the story’s ending is that betrayal gets turned around and trumped to become forgiveness, first by Jamili, then by Jesse and her mom, and finally, even Manzo’s wife and children forgive the man. Clearly, the playwright wants to send a timely message of hope and forgiveness in these months before the next Kenyan General Election. It may have seemed a bit far-fetched, as when Nibo exchanges his gun for his guitar, then starts crooning ‘The Storm is over now’ and the whole cast joins in. But the show is surprisingly moving, despite a horrible sound system that crackled with distracting music through much of the play. Next time SSS is performed again, I highly recommend the music is canned altogether as it made listening to the dialogue difficult at best. Scars, Saints and Stiletto confirms that Sitati is a playwright to watch as he is one of the few Kenyan writers who’s taking up the real life dramas of Kenyan life and framing them in story forms that have passion, poignancy and the purpose of making audiences think about salient subjects affecting their everyday lives.

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