THREE KENYAN THEATRE PREMIERS THEATRE PREMIERES BY KENYAN PLAYWRIGHTS//// BY Margaretta wa Gacheru: published early October 2013 in Saturday Nation///

Full cast of The Vagina Monologues//// Over the next two weeks, local theatre goers will have the good fortune to see no fewer than three stage premieres of original plays by Kenyan writers. Two of them premiered last night. One is John Sibi-Okumu’s brand new script entitled Elements starring the Francophone actress from Guadeloupe, Nathalie Vairac, at Alliance Francaise. The other is Walter Sitati’s Episode Two of What is your Price? which he wrote especially for his theatre company, Hearts of Art and is the long-awaited follow-up to the cliff-hanging drama (Episode One) which premiered earlier this year at Kenya National Theatre. Sibi-Okumu also wrote his play with a special plan in mind. He was thinking of a woman who bore a striking resemblance to the lovely cosmopolitan actress, Vairac, whom he wanted to give the opportunity to reveal her extraordinary acting skills to a receptive Nairobi audience. Kenyans have been seeing quite a few remarkable female actors on stage, in film and on television in recent times. But rarely have local playwrights composed compelling monologues for one specific actress, which is exactly what Sibi-Okumu did. Tonight is the only time you have to see Sibi’s new muse on stage in Elements, at least until the director-playwright and actress can select another venue. The script is actually in French but English sub-titles will be streaming right above the Alliance stage, so non-French speakers should be able to enjoy the work just as well as the French-speaking audience. Sitati also has several strong female characters in his Episode Two of What is Your Price? which is on at the Kenya National Theatre today and tomorrow. Played by Ellsey Akatch, Beatrice Wacuka and Helen Wanjala, Sitati’s women reveal a wide range of temperaments and types, the implication being that women can be complex characters with the capacity to transcend traditional gender stereotypes, just as Sibi-Okumu’s female character does. Sitati assures me that the climax of What is your Price? will come in Episode Two so we won’t have to hold our breaths again to find out what ultimately happens to his lead characters, advocates Michael (played by Sitati) and his brother Gerard (Elvis Gatere) on a third occasion. The third playwright whose script premieres next Friday, October 25th at the Michael Joseph Centre is Sitawa Namwalie Silence is a Woman was meant to premiere last month at the Storymoja Hay Festival, but due to the tragic events that unfolded at the Westgate Mall, including the demise of the Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor who was in Kenya especially to attend and speak at the Festival, the show was cancelled. Sitawa’s script is actually not a play per se, but rather a series of her poems, all of which flow from the same source and grapple with similar spell-binding themes. Sitawa is on stage with Mumbi Kaigwa and Melvin Alusa as well as with instrumentalist Willie Rama on percussion and Boaz Otieno on the single-string harp known as the orutu. It’s another show you don’t want to miss, especially if you ever saw Sitawa’s Cut off my Tongue, which followed the same sort of poetic structure and showed how powerful and provocative Sitawa’s vibrant verses are. Finally, Fanaka Arts and Friends Ensemble will be staging another comedic farce next weekend at Alliance Francaise, directed by Ellis Otieno. Husband Caught in the Net has an outstanding cast including Sam Psenjen, Wairimu Karuga, Kevin Amwoma, Maggie Karanja and Joe Kinyua among others. But it sounds like yet another show that makes fun of infidelity and is adapted from a script by an American or British playwright. But as Nairobi audiences tend to love this sort of frothy and frivolous entertainment, Friends and Fanaka are likely to well at the box office. Continuing at the Professional Centre is Phoenix Players’ latest production, Apples in the Desert, by the award-winning Israeli playwright Sayvon Liebrecht. This is yet another production which showcases the female’s condition and reveals how women are finally breaking free from constraining traditions and expressing themselves as strong, intelligent and courageous human beings.


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