SITAWA’S ‘SILENCE’ WAS RESOUNDING SUCCESS
By margaretta wa gacheru (not published in Saturday Nation as hoped on March 22,2014)
Poetess, performer and writer of Silence is a Woman, Sitawa Namwalie, gave a dynamite performance at Swifteye Gallery
When Sitawa Namwalie said her new director had totally transformed her production of Silence is a Woman, she wasn’t overstating her case.
The five-person production first staged last October at Braeburn Theatre was stunning; but what Alice Karunditu has done is reshape the show, making Sitawa’s wonderful poetry much more vibrant, performative and even musical than before.
Director of Silence is a Woman, Alice Karunditu at Swifteye Gallery
For one thing, the two instrumentalists, Willie Rama (on drums and flute) and Boaz Otieno (on single string ‘guitar’) play a more integral and participatory role in the performance. They not only start off the show with Willie’s explosive drum intro joined in by Otieno whose lyrical string first blends in beautifully with Willie’s powerful sound, but then Otieno takes off on his own musical journey which seems to foreshadow the sinuous showcase of Sitawa’s dramatic and witty performative poetry that’s about to begin. They also engage the trio of actors (Sitawa, Aleya Kassam and Melvin Alusa) in lots more exhilarating dance, to the point where they all seem ecstatic as they dance for joy.
Cast of Silence is a woman: Melvin Alusa, Sitawa and Aleya Kassam
In fact, the show itself runs the gamut of human emotions, from tragedy and trauma (both personal and political) to rib-tickling hilarity.
But it’s not only the director who has enhanced this second production of Silence. Sitawa herself, by adding several new poems to the mix, has strengthened the depth of dramatic content, including new dimensions of insight for the actors and director to work with.
Those new dimensions are particularly apparent in performances by Alusa and Aleya. (Sitawa’s theatrical prowess is a given.) Alusa already gave a powerful performance the first time round, but AK gives him a lot more leeway to practically steal the show with his blazing eyes, commanding presence combined with Sitawa’s powerful poems.
But Aleya (who replaced Mumbi Kaigwa who had prior commitments) was not to be upstaged by either Alusa or Sitawa. Instead, Alice’s restructuring of Sitawa’s first script enabled her to give more than a few remarkable moments to magnetically our full attention; first, in ‘The Game’ when she’s a flirt and he’s a not-so-subtle stalker, and then playing an Asian lady looking for a fat parastatal job. She’s even amazing as the little white lady from Muthaiga who grows orchids oblivious to the country’s crying need for the water her plants consume carelessly.
Aleya Kassam joined Sitawa’s cast for the first time for Silence and she was brilliant
Ultimately, one has to hand it all back to Sitawa whose poetic insights and honest presentation of her journey of self-discovery is sometimes painful, as when she reflects on her lonely days in an all-white primary school; but the pain gives way to healing hilarity, first when she admits she’s sadly a bourgeois ‘chick’ not a peasant or a proletariat, and then when she and her cast re-enact her vivid memory of travelling ‘home’ with her family as a child.
The children’s excruciating experience became an opportunity last weekend at Shifteye Gallery for fellow Kenyans to reflect on their own childhood memories, some of which include having to decide if one identifies more with urban or rural life, or chooses both.
Implicitly, Silence is a Woman is not simply about the gender issue and cultural practice of women being ‘seen but never heard’ since their ‘place’ is to be silent, acquiescent, unquestioning, obedient. Nonetheless, the tragic story about one defiant woman, Chelegot Mutai, who was tortured till she broke down, made it clear Sitawa has tremendous regard for this courageous woman who refused to be silenced until she was practically destroyed by her political enemies.
Sitawa gave a commanding performance at Swifteye Gallery but her passionate performance was matched by members of her cast and her musicians All pix by Margaretta
Silence is also a kind of window into Sitawa’s world which is a frank, honest and inspired reflection on the world of post-Independent Kenya as seen through the eyes of one woman poet and performer who refuses to be silenced herself. Instead she speaks, writes and performs unfettered by tradition, fear or intimidation of any kind.
Meanwhile, over at Alliance Francaise, the Friends Ensemble was staging Kiss Your Ex which was quite a contrast to Silence. One was utterly inventive and original, the other another Western comedy romance that got ‘Kenyanized’ as far as location and social setting were concerned.
The one thing the two plays had in common was the quality of the acting. Any production that’s got Joe Kinyua (as Bernard) and Lydia Gitachu in it cannot fail to fly high, irrespective of how ridiculous may be the script. Kinya played Bernard and Gitachu played both his love interests, one his wife, the other the one he’d proposed to 22 years before but then left her ‘without a trace’. They’re characters whose chemistry on stage is a potent mix of pleasure, passion, charming foreplay and comic relief. Newcomer Barbara Mwende was credible as Bernard’s daughter but the contrast between the two veteran actors and Mwende was inevitable.