Heartstrings Kenya’s play hits a new level of hilarity

By: MARGARETTA WA GACHERU

From its opening night performance last weekend, I can predict Heartstrings’ hilarity will hit a record high throughout the weekend with their gender-sensitive performance of Behind Every Kenyan Stomach.

As usual the title is cryptic and utilitarian: it’s good to grab the public’s attention. Yet in this case, there really is something “behind” one married couple’s stomach.

Patrick (Dennis Ochieng) wants his wife Cynthia (Bernice Nthenya) to have babies while she wants to work first and make enough cash to give their children a fruitful life. The bantering between them is swift, sassy and sardonic as he appears to be manipulating his wife, running her ragged even as she is on her way to work.

Surprisingly enough he finally agrees to go to hospital to get his malady diagnosed by Daktari (Pauline Mukiri). The results of her prognosis is stunning: Patrick is “pregnant”, according to the doctor.

Being the ‘first man’ to get pregnant, Patrick falls for his new-found celebrity hook, line and sinker. So do their neighbours, who are informed by the couple’s talkative househelp Maggie (Anne Kamau) who tells everyone the shocking news.

AD LIBS AND IMPROVISATION

Throughout the devised script (which is filled with ad libs and improvisations), the jokes fly and many bawdy earthy punch lines make both the actors and the audience laugh a lot.

Yet it’s only at the end of the show that we discover the biggest joke of all. We also find out who is playing it on whom.

Suffice it to say, Governor Sammy Mwangi has an enlightened affinity for women, especially the young women who aim to attain their financial independence and become fully fledged freedom fighters in the best and most essential sense of the term.

At the same time, Heartstrings can never escape making a not-so-subtle commentary on corruption in Kenyan society today. This time it’s corruption that enables the wife to have the last laugh and twist the truth to serve her interests.

Her intent is to show her spouse that he needs to see the world through her eyes, even if it means making people believe that a man can have a nine-month pregnancy, go into labour and finally have a child.

Nonetheless, a sharp-tongued actor like Bernice Nthenya meets her match playing opposite Dennis Ochieng since both are outrageously funny deadpan jokesters whose wit is dagger-like and direct.

Meanwhile, Phoenix Players opened last weekend in John Goodrum‘s charming yet mystifying tale of love, loss and an unlikely resolution of events and emotions, entitled Sorry I love you.

It’s only a three-hander – featuring Samson Psenjen, Ivy Esther and Brian Achola – but somehow the show features a wide cast of characters. Most of them are played by Achola, whose enigmatic, shape-shifting Tramp reappears over and over again throughout the play.

Naturally, an explanation for the Tramp’s multiple reincarnations becomes clear by the end of the play, but not before there’s a major blow up between Helen and Jools.

These two get together after Helen has been cast off by Jools’ good friend and he steps in right after the Tramp predicts a fine young ‘catch’ could easily appear on the scene anytime, so she need not feel dejected or rejected by the old boyfriend.

Sorry I Love You seems like a modern-day fairy tale, including a Prince Charming (Psenjen) and Cinderella-like Helen (Esther), complete with a fairy godfather (Achola) who works magic on behalf of a love that transcends reason and human wranglings.

Director Jacob Otieno is becoming something of a regular at Phoenix. He brings a wealth of experience in Kenyan theatre, having acted and directed for decades.

Johari Productions will be performing their new Kikuyu comedy, Cabi Yene (Someone else’s key) at Phoenix Players next weekend from August 14 to 16. The show will be directed by Trizah Kague, a marvelous actor who we are happy to see try her hand at directing.

Finally, the 11-man Maasai Cultural Group, led by Peter Katitia, will be performing traditional Maasai songs and dance next week at the Magadi Ilparakuo Village.

Their show is a lead up to the one they will be giving in August 27 in Morocco where they will be attending an international folk festival.