While Nairobi is still celebrating women at Alliance Francaise following last week’s marking of the International Women’s Day, they are on the other side of town bearing the brunt of multiple jokes devised by Phoenix Players and the Festival of Creative Arts.
The two theatre groups are running two plays; My Wonderful Day and the Wrath of a Woman Scorned, that were initially written by British men but subsequently “workshopped” by local thespians to make the scripts relevant to Kenyan audiences.
Not wanting to be left behind the public mood, the two scripts tackle one of the most talked about issues in Kenya today — violence against men, specifically husbands beaten by wives who are fed up with their spouses’ perceived misconduct.
The revised Alan Ayckbourn script at Phoenix Theatre shows wife Paula’s (Vicky Gichora) hostility towards her spouse Kevin on suspicion of infidelity.
The couple’s relationship hits a new low after Paula witnesses firsthand the infidelity when she arrives home and catches him and his girlfriend Tiffany (Jackline Njoroge) red-handed in her bedroom.
Poise and presence of mind
Kevin gets clobbered for sure, and what wife wouldn’t be upset to find her partner shacked up in her house on her bed! The girlfriend gets off easy.
She’s only kicked out of the house in a bed sheet with no clothes to wear.
Over at the Kenya National Theatre, the Festival of Creative Arts group played to a packed house last weekend with the Wrath of a Woman Scorned vindicating the Maendeleo ya Wanaume leader Ndiritu Njoka’s claim that men are receiving cruel and unusual punishment from their women “for no good reason.”
In this case, both spouses, Jane (Nice Githinji) and her hubby Peter (Martin Githinji) are keeping secrets from one another, which causes tension and leads to misunderstandings.
The misunderstandings in turn lead Jane to jumping to conclusions that end in violent rage.
Jane’s pregnant, but she doesn’t want Peter to know (Yes, he’s the father) since he has just been offered a company job in the UK conditioned upon his not having babies.
At the same time, he doesn’t want to tell her the move had been cancelled, and since he knows she had been looking forward to going abroad, he doesn’t want to break her heart.
So the deceptions seem innocent enough, but somehow this couple doesn’t believe that transparency and honesty work best in marital affairs.
It is not far-fetched to say that most marriages are filled with secrets kept by both partners.
If that is true, could this be why so many marriages seem to backfire in this day and age, and divorce is on the rise in Kenya and the rest of the world?
In any case, Jane decides Peter is on the make with her best friend Stella (Jackie Mungai). Not taking the time to find out the veracity of her suspicions, Jane goes ballistic, first throwing precious plates that are family heirlooms, then bashing her man.
Her assault is more verbal, less physical than Paula’s in My Wonderful Day.
In both instances, women’s capacity for violence against men is crystal clear. Whether their wrath is justified is left up to the audience to decide.
But what is plain is that women in both shows feel aggrieved by their men and are no longer going to acquiesce passively when their spouses don’t keep their vows.
The irony of both plays, of course, is the timing. How could both Phoenix and FCA have scheduled these shows months in advance, and yet they are so timely and relevant in ways unimaginable six months ago. Whether it was coincidence or destiny, no one can tell.
All I can say is that the little girl who happened to be in Kevin’s house when Paula flew into a rage, as ferocious as Hurricane Katrina, must have gotten an A+ for the story she wrote for her school assignment called My Wonderful Day.
Shiko Mucai, aged 10, plays an almost 9-year-old Winnie with poise and presence of mind. Winnie’s supposed to be in school, but being under the weather, she accompanies her pregnant Francophone African mother LaVerne (Anjela Nancy) to her house cleaning job.
When LaVerne goes into labour on the job, Shiko’s left in the house with the secret lovers and Kevin’s pal, Josh (Arthur Sanya).
None of them know Shiko is speaking only French, not because she doesn’t know English but because her mother makes her speak her mother tongue every Tuesday.
With the adults all believing that Winnie can’t hear a word of their speech, Shiko sees and hears everything. So much so that she tries to avert a violent confrontation after Paula arrives home unannounced.
But this precocious little girl cannot stop Hurricane Paula from pouncing on her spouse and sending him to hospital. The goodness about
both plays is that one so easily sees why the women get violent.
That’s no excuse for their wrath, but at the same time, they are not unprovoked. In both cases, it is infidelity or the perception of infidelity that drives the women “wild”.
In the past, especially in the days when polygamy was the norm (e.g. as when the late John Michuki’s father had 47 wives) a woman was meant to accept her second class status and acquiesce to the arrival of multiple women in her man’s home.
Today, it’s no longer that easy for a man to behave any way he wants, whether married or not. For better or worse, women seem to take marriage vows seriously; some say more seriously than men.
Maybe not, but the two shows staged last weekend fed the ongoing conversation that’s been boiling over for weeks, all about women’s violent wrath against men and the rising tide of battered husbands.
So maybe we ought to take the trend seriously and address the underlying issues, not just claim men are getting ‘Nyeri-ed’ by women!