Dr Zippy Okoth gave a mesmerising stand-up solo performance last Wednesday night at Kenya National Theatre that kept her full-house audience enthralled for no less than two and a half hours.
Mind you, most standup comedians can only keep their audiences engaged for an hour at best. But Zippy’s ‘Side-Chick Wife’ kept us riveted to our seats, disbelieving that she could speak so casually about sex and how it has been an essential element in her character’s life.
Speaking on a barren National Theatre stage, decorated with only two simple flower-filled tables and a chair she barely had a moment to sit in, Zippy was ever in motion.
She starts off coolly. Speaking straight to her audience, she establishes her credibility with us by giving her genealogy and lineage.
She quickly took command of the stage, having only her microphone as a prop. Her story was what we had come to hear, and boy, did we get an ear-full!
Having watched most of Zippy’s one-woman performances in the past, I’d expected this one to be autobiographical, which I believe it was.
There might have been points that she embellished, like the number of men she met through online dating sites or the number of times she tried fasting or juicing to lose weight.
Otherwise, this was a seamless story about the Zippy who is happily divorced from Ricky (who mistreated her and featured prominently in “Diary of a Divorcee’) but who wants to have another man to love in her life.
She finds him in Bobby, but before she lets him get under (and all over) her skin and into her heart, she lets us know how much she values her freedom and renewed sense of strength.
She had inherited that resilience from her family who for generations have produced strong women. But she succumbs to Bobby’s charms and ‘accidentally’ gets pregnant.
She explains how she had been using a ‘coil’ to avert pregnancy, but had recently removed it. She says she hadn’t had sex for five years so thought there was no need of keeping it in. She felt her active sex life was over, but then, Bobby walked in.
Initially, she’s committed to having the child, irrespective of his feelings or plans. She makes no demands on him since she had wanted a child to companion with the one she had with Ricky.
But then, he’s happy to accommodate the child and even happier to befriend her firstborn girl. But once she raises the question of ‘what next?’, everything changes.
His response to her query is to duck the implied issue of wedlock and gradually distances himself emotionally and physically from her.
Eventually, she discovers she has been deluded. She is neither a wife nor the only girlfriend he has got. Or put another way, she has been living as if she were a wife, but now, realises she is more like a side-chick since he’s been having affairs with other women all along.
Zippy is a brilliant storyteller whose story comes straight from the heart, whether it is all autobiographical or not. Yet no matter the motivation, what makes the tale super-juicy is the way Zippy unravels her feelings about sex in the process of telling her story.
She claims she is ravenous for it and distraught when Bobby is no longer there for her sexually or emotionally.
What sends shockwaves through the play is Zippy’s unvarnished language related to sexuality. She is shameless in speaking about the most intimate aspects of love-making, which is quite amazing in a country where local ‘morality police’ refuse the teaching of sex education in schools.
So while Kenyans are still tight-lipped about sex and publicly caught up in Puritanical notions like even speaking about the biology of sexual reproduction might pollute children’s minds, Zippy is talking about what’s already happening among young people who honestly need to hear how to deal with their biological changes, urges, and feelings, especially as they relate to sex.
Zippy only staged ‘Side-Chick Wife’ once last Wednesday. One hopes she performs it again, although one feels her performance was so natural and emotionally charged that she might not find it easy to expose herself so publicly again.
Maybe that challenge will compel her to come back on stage, a place one feels is her true artistic home.
But whether she repeats her frank and unfettered discussions related to sex and reproductive rights is another issue altogether.