- In Liquid arts’ latest production, Barua, the playwright Kelvin Manda sets out to do a noble thing. It is to present a sympathetic story about the plight of the single mother.
- And yet, on Saturday night I couldn’t help feeling Barua had backfired since I have rarely seen a more unsympathetic single mom than Vivian Nyawira’s presentation of this sassy young former party girl, Sally.
In Liquid arts’ latest production, Barua, the playwright Kelvin Manda sets out to do a noble thing. It is to present a sympathetic story about the plight of the single mother. And yet, on Saturday night I couldn’t help feeling Barua had backfired since I have rarely seen a more unsympathetic single mom than Vivian Nyawira’s presentation of this sassy young former party girl, Sally.
In the opening moments of the play, we meet Sally lambasting her House help Indiza (Kui Githuku) who, for me, was the most sympathetic and sweet spirited house help that one would want to have taking care of their baby. Sally shows no appreciation for her surrogate’s efforts during her absence to give the child all she needs. Instead, she ignores the child, goes for a drink and continues insulting her maid.
We never learn much about Sally in the play except that she has friends who, like her, love to dance and party. So when they all arrive, Sally quickly swings into her frivolous party mode. That’s until maid and baby appear. Then we see Sally swing back into her abusive mode. She throws out everyone except two friends, Grace (Sandra Ndindo) and Abu (Felix Peter), who lament the loss of their party buddy. Sally meanwhile doesn’t go near her child. It seems the sight of the maid and the child triggers an inner rage that explodes volcanically, spontaneously.
Manda apparently wanted to throw in some comic relief at this point, so he creates a buffoon in the form of Speedy (Dadon Gakengo), the security guard who has delusions of being an actual police officer. In a sense, he parodies Kenya’s local kanjos (county enforcement officers) who rough the public up for nothing other than to assert their power and squeeze blood money from those who can least afford.
Speedy feels like a big distraction in the play. He’s a nuisance, but at the same time, when he generates a fight scene with Sally’s boss, Robert (Majestic Steve) who had been persuaded by Sally’s coworker Maureen (Mary Muthee), to come and meet the newborn, one can see why the boss wants to clobber the foolish security guard.
Sally isn’t home when the boss and Maureen arrive but when it finally dawns on them that Sally’s not around, they leave.
The one other character who grabs our attention and gives us something more substantial than party scenes and men behaving like scrappy little boys, is French (Stephen Mwangi) who is the actual ‘disappeared dad’ who has returned to see Sally and the little girl that they made.
French is the one person, other than Indiza, who seems to really care about the child. Indiza is clearly dedicated, but the arrival of this guy is slightly mysterious. Where has he come from? Why did he disappear? How does he dare show his face after leaving Sally alone?
None of these questions get answered. But what he does tell Speedy (who wasn’t listening) is a graphic replay of that fateful night when he and Sally conceived the child. He doesn’t make excuses, although he admits he only stayed in town two weeks. That was all the time he had with Sally, who when she arrives back home, tells him, even before he can say a word, to get out of her house.
What happens next is the high point of the play. It’s when we finally see Sally come out with her true feelings, her emotional mix of anger, loneliness, alienation, and utter disappointment that he’d vanished when she most needed him. It is the only time I felt Sally honestly expresses her pain and the panic she genuinely feels about being a single mother.
She literally spits out her hostile questions at him as if they were flaming hot spears: where were you when I needed you, when I was laughed at on campus, when I had to weather all the insults alone? She doesn’t give him time to answer since she already knows he has no response. Sadly, she has already resigned herself to being alone and a single mother. The problem is she isn’t handling it well.
It’s only at the end of the play when the ‘lost baby’ is found in the arms of Indiza, that we see a speck of Sally’s maternal interest in her child. Otherwise, Sally’s character is raw, rude, and full of rage. Which could be the truth of what many pregnant women feel.