Art

‘Deadman’, is one of the best university plays yet

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Deadman crew on stage at the Kenya Cultural Centre on January 23, 2022. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Deadman is steeped in serious issues, everything from poverty, philosophy, and corruption to guns, violence, revolution, and Mafia-styled criminality.
  • Naturally, a love affair had to get thrown into the mix as were several debates over issues like free will versus fate and gender equity.
  • Deadman was only performed once, but at least one house-full audience got to see the show.

One thing is a no-brainer for anyone who watched the play, Deadman, including the three ‘curtain-raisers’ that preceded it, last Saturday night at Kenya Cultural Centre. And that is that Kenyatta University students have heaps of talent, energy and enthusiasm for theatre, and especially for classmates like director Geoffrey Karabilo who put the whole show together

Deadman is steeped in serious issues, everything from poverty, philosophy, and corruption to guns, violence, revolution, and Mafia-styled criminality.

Naturally, a love affair had to get thrown into the mix as were several debates over issues like free will versus fate and gender equity. But possibly the biggest issue addressed in Jante Juma’s script relates to power, including who wields it and how?

The main player in that realm is Doc (Derick Omondi), the pseudo-holy man who, dressed in his full-length kanzu, studies his Bible when he’s not receiving the day’s collections from his City Council ‘kanjo-like’ ‘Goons’ who roam around the most impoverished parts of Nairobi collecting poor people’s meager assets.

His corruption is flagrant, but it sadly mirrors many aspects of Kenyan society.

The show begins enigmatically with a brief scene in which one man, (who we later learn is Daido (Matthew Ngugi), the play’s protagonist) is seated with hands bound behind his back, apparently being tortured by another guy who we subsequently learn is the chief goon, Jeshi (Michael Mwangi).

One can only guess that the man in the chair is the title character as the scene ends abruptly.

From there, Daido’s story unfolds as either a flashback, a dream, or one more enigma. He’s just received his grades, and he’s done very well. But he doesn’t want to fulfill his father’s plan for him to become a doctor like his older brother.

The dad means to insult him by calling him ‘a girl’ for wanting to become a florist. But when he’s undeterred, his father throws him out. After that, he heads to Nairobi where he lands in Dandora where he quickly blends in. But he can’t adapt to the status quo, especially when the goons come around demanding tribute from the poor.

Daido’s revolutionary spirit rouses the wrath of Doc whose psychopathic character feels threatened by this young rebel. At the same time, Jeshi is plotting a rebellion of his own as he aims to displace Doc whose vicious cruelty, unpredictable character, and manic God-complex make him a volatile boss.

The villains in Deadman are numerous, ranging from Daido’s misogynous dad to Doc, Jeshi and the rest of the goons. But their characters are developed well.

Jeshi is my favorite bad-boy as he’s not just vicious, merciless, conniving, and mean, he’s also sycophantic and obsequious toward Doc who is so obsessed with power that he can’t see those planning his overthrow from within.

Daido is totally naïve about the dark forces surveilling his every move. Even when Agnes (Purity Muthoni), Doc’s cook and housemaid tries to warn him, he won’t be deterred from his plan to clean up his side of the city, including the corrupt politicians.

The love story between Daido and Agnes is short-lived since it only comes into being towards the end of the play. It is one of those love-at-first-sight type meetings at the dumpsite. But it is key since now she has a place to go after Jeshi tries to rape her.

Simultaneously, Doc’s crumbling grip on power is weakened when he has to decide who is telling him the truth and who is truly loyal? Is it Jeshi or is it Agnes, the girl who at age 7, was ‘given’ to Doc after her father couldn’t pay money owed to Doc.

Deadman is one of the best university productions we may see in 2022. It’s too early to make predictions, and one hopes Karabilo, (who won Best Actor’s prize at Nairobi Performing Act Studio) puts the show on again.

Deadman was only performed once, but at least one house-full audience got to see the show.