Derrick Waswa is a gender genius, a playwright willing to explore the illicit intrigues and intricacies of socio-sexual relationships with a sharp eye for the truth.
The challenge posed when watching his latest script, called ‘Red Flags’, which was staged last Sunday at Alliance Francaise, Nairobi was to keep track of all the secrets being kept by most of the key characters in the play.
The initial scene was embedded in an evocative video that introduced the Dorian Production cast. Then it seamlessly slipped into addressing the issue of men who skip out on relationships and the consequences of that dereliction of duty.
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After that, the show comes alive at the university graduation of several young women, including Camille (Eugenia Kamau). She got a heap of secrets starting with her new boyfriend who she does not want to tell her mother, a single mom, about. He is a slippery young guy named Oliver (Keith Maina) who she finds more interesting than her boring boyfriend, Tom.
But Camille is in the mood for risk-taking and Oliver seems to offer her that. He also works for her father, Mandela (Humfrey Atsenga).
As it turns out, Camille’s dad is a crook, a human trafficker specialising in shipping young women to the Gulf where they are either turned into prostitutes or domestic labourers, both of which are invariably abused.
Mandela’s wife, Camille’s stepmother, Aurelia (Angela Atieno) has secrets too.
She is also involved with the trafficking business, only she doesn’t let her husband know about it. Nor does he tell her what he does. Aurelia is also a ‘cougar’ whose young boyfriend is Oliver. He is a messenger liaising between Mandela’s side of the business and her own.
He is also a cheater, pretending to be Camille’s boyfriend when he’ is more seriously involved with Aurelia.
Camille discovers Aurelia’s affair with Oliver and threatens to tell on them her dad unless Aurelia lets her go free to a mysterious graduation party that she and her friends are meant to attend.
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We never quite get to that party. Or maybe the ‘party’ became a flight to Dubai. There were several confusing moments in the play and this was one of them: how did Camille, her sister Samira, and two other
girlfriends get to the Gulf?
One need not ask since they were destined to get there, only all four went under pretences. They had met two friends of Auralia who persuaded them to go. All they needed to do was to bring their passports and take an oath of secrecy and allegiance to the organisation that got them there.
The scene in Dubai has a festive, colourful set design. But as the girls figure out quickly, the place might look festive but they didn’t come to indulge men’s lusts, prostitute themselves, or accept anything other than what they’d been promised.
Demanding to go home straight away, the scene gets bloody as three male clients arrive expecting ‘ladies in waiting’ available to them.
Instead, they find militant women insistent on rejecting their games. In the process, two of the women die and two more, Camille and Samira, are tortured and abused. But they somehow get back home.
Fortunately, there are two ‘good guys who have been working undercover to get sufficient evidence on sex traffickers. Absalom (Brian Ngugi) and Gabriela (Trizah Awuor) got all the evidence they needed from Camille and Samira. They arrest Mandela and Aurelia who are stunned momentarily to discover they both do trafficking.
Ultimately, Waswa addresses the issue of the consequences of the walk-away dad whose daughters’ lives were nearly spoiled by him twice, first, when he left their mom, and second when he nearly got them transformed into slaves after getting into the business of human trafficking.
Waswa likes to raise multiple issues in his scripts. Sometimes too many. In what we imagine are the play’s final moments, his narrator (Gadwill Odhiambo) asks this difficult question: Can men and women be
friends? Why ask it now?
Perhaps it is because Camille returns to look for her old boyfriend Tom whom she had spurned for his being so ‘boringly’ studious and smart.
But Tom has moved on. His start-up bio-gas company has won some big environmental award which comes with cash. He offers Camille a job as a sweeper, that’s it!
It was after that that the narrative asked his question. A query requiring another play, something Waswa must have in his pipeline already.
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