Phoenix Players Spin a Male Fantasy in FLORINDA Hotel

FANTASY PLUS REALISM MAKE FLORINDA HOTEL BOTH CONTEMPORARY AND COMPLEX By margaretta wa Gacheru, Published in Saturday Nation, May 25th// Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez invented a literary genre known as magical realism. And I’d like to suggest that the guy (and it was definitely a guy) who wrote Florinda Hotel, the play that opened last Wednesday staged by Phoenix Players, ‘invented’ (or at least engaged in) another genre that I’d like to call fantastical realism. (l-r) Brian Munene, Martin Githinji, Sahil Gada and Shiviske Shivisi in Florinda Hotel at Phoenix Theatre//The reason is it’s a pure fantasy in this day and age for a wife to be ‘okay’ with her husband having a mistress, especially one that he maintains in South B. Sometime back, polygamy was the norm in Africa and wives had no say as to how many or who became their co-wives. But that was before Western culture came on the scene, and wives finally had some say about the kind of family they wanted and about the equity they now expected in intimate relationships, like marriage. So when George (Martin Githinji), the owner-manager of Florinda Hotel, tells his buddy Aramis (Brian Munene) that his wife Seraphine (Nice Githinji) is ‘okay’ with his having a mistress named Yvette (Veronica Waceke), one has to suspect the playwright is either creating a fantasy about wives who are not bothered when their spouses’ sleeping around, or writing about the Dark Ages when wives were never consulted or even informed about the man’s concubines. George (Martin Githinji) with Yvette (Veronica Waceke) and Aramis (Brian Munene)What we do know is that Seraphine is fed up with all the domestic double duties she is stuck with, working at Florinda Hotel with her spouse. For not only does she have to cook, clean, waitress and serve all the guests who visit the hotel, like the two ‘foreigners’ played by Shiviske Shivis and Sahil Gada. She is stuck doing comparable duties for George who also relies on his wife to keep the hotel accounts and regularly balance the books. Seraphine is a restless, frustrated soul who clearly wants her freedom. She takes her angst out on George who doesn’t connect the dots to think maybe she is not okay with having a ‘kept woman’ in her husband’s life. Seraphine (Nice Githinji) is fed up with her life at Florinda Hotel//But even if she weren’t feeling exploited and bored with the tedium of domestic work, she does feel undervalued and overworked. So when George suggests that she take a holiday from the hotel, she jumps at the chance. Never mind that George’s pal Aramis initiated the idea since he sees that both wife and concubine are bored stiff with their lives. Yvette yearns to live the domestic bliss that she believes Seraphine has had. Meanwhile, Seraphine, wanting a change, feels good about living by herself even though it’s in the rented flat that George got for Yvette. But the life-swapping of the women turns out to be a total disaster. It gets especially unsettling when George’s Aunt Marie (Allison Gibwini) shows up and meets Yvette who she believes is Seraphine. What brings out the ‘realism’ of the fantastical realism is the way the women come together to solve the immediate problem at hand. I won’t tell what they decide, but that decision is what makes Florinda Hotel a show that ends up being quite contemporary and ironically quite fun! Allison Gibsini (left) as Aunt Marie arrives on the scene to turn whole play upside down.//Aunt Marie’s arrival is the game-changer since she’s not a fool and quickly sees there’s something strange about this utterly undomesticated ‘Seraphine’. Whether the ‘co-wives’ will ever truly return to life as it was before the switch is an open-ended issue; but all obviously gain a deeper understanding of what they want and need in their lives. And it all happens at the Florinda Hotel, which is directed by Nick Njache

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