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Women rocking local theatre with intriguing performances

Albert (Justin Mirichii) and Miriam (Fridah Muhindi) in ‘Pull the Other Leg’. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
Albert (Justin Mirichii) and Miriam (Fridah Muhindi) in ‘Pull the Other Leg’. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Apart from Nothing but the Truth and Heartstrings’ capitalizing on the deliciously comedic chemistry between Victor Nyaata and Nick Kwach and the dismal dumping of the good Doctor’s (Kwach) aunt (Festus Mackrine), last weekend’s theatre scene primarily belonged to women!

Both at Phoenix Theatre and at Michael Joseph Centre, women were un-tameable. Both Maggie Karanja in Pull the Other Leg and Julisa Rowe in Nightwatch seemed like forces of nature, both organic and alarmingly powerful in their performing appeal. Sadly, the women in Heartstrings’ show didn’t quite know how to modulate their tone, expressing only outrage as they both bellowed without a hint of emotional inflection.

Julisa Rowe probably offered the best illustration of how to do that. In Nightwatch, she played a multitude of different characters, each having his or her own individuality, tonality and mannerisms, all of which made one marvel at this one-woman performance which posed only one problem for me – the underlying patriarchal premise of the production.

The story itself, especially as told by Dr Rowe, was enchanting, about a baby girl born just as her father must go to war and her mother dies shortly after the birth of her seventh child. The father leaves just before giving the girl a name and her siblings hand her over to a traveling carnival believing it will bring her up better than they could do. So the child struggles for the rest of the play, seeking but not finding her real name.

In the process of storytelling, Julisa plays everyone from the baby as she grows to be a little girl, her siblings and even her dad as well as the Carnival Barker/Manager, the Fat Lady and the disheveled Carnival clown. All the while, she’s belting out songs and using her whole body to dramatize each character.

It was an impressive feat which she performed effortlessly (apparently) and with a sensitivity that touched the heart, especially when the father returns home, finds the lost little girl, names her Abigail and leaves her to watch for the next man to give her a new name. It’s a sweet story but women don’t all need a man to feel fulfilled or to establish an identity of their own.

As for Maggie Karanja, she puts the ‘horror’ into horrible as she plays Boedicia Hamisi, the hostile mother-in-law in Pull the Other Leg. The target of her nastiness is her son-in-law Albert (Justin Mirichii) and all her protective instincts envelop her daughter Miriam (Fridah Muhindi).

Maggie is another actress who can be convincing both as a terror as well as a tender-hearted mum. Ivy Esther who plays the artist insistent on Albert’s stripping for her to draw her winning life drawing, is also edgy as her powers of persuasion almost get Albert shredded by his in-law. Fortunately, there’s a marvelous twist at the show’s end which allows the couple to live happily ever after and the horrible mother-in-law to be humbled, almost.

Tim King’oo deftly directed Phoenix’s first show of 2017 and we wish the Theatre well as Pull the Other Leg has one more weekend (tonight and tomorrow) to be staged. And as we’d like Phoenix Theatre to survive, we hope theatre goers get to Professional Centre this weekend; also that Phoenix’s Board of Directors ensure the Theatre is properly managed in future.

The one theatre company having the most enviable problem is Heartstrings since it’s got too many fans who try to book tickets too late to get into the late shows. The local appeal of Heartstrings Entertainment is not only its consistency of earthy, indigenized comedy. It’s also the company’s professionalism and their ability to effectively improvise, thus ensuring that timely issues are raised during a show. In Nothing but the Truth, everything from the Doctors’ Strike to unemployment and ill-advised strategies for coping with economic hardship are addressed in the show.

Meanwhile, Amar Desai and his Aperture Africa Productions will be staging the Ray Cooney comedy, It Runs in the Family next weekend (February 24-26) at the Oshwal Centre Auditorium. Partnering with Car-62 Magente Charters to donate revenue from the show to the Rhino Ark Charitable Trust, Aperture has been assisting various charities ever since the group was formed in 2003.

Finally, tomorrow night at Alliance Francaise, Kenya’s star thespian, actor-director-playwright John Sibi-Okumu will be directing Davina Leonard in the one-woman production of Every Brilliant Thing, a riveting play that explores the salient issue: ‘What makes life worth living?’

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