3 Wooden Crosses: Sex work, murder and unlucky escape unfold on KU campus stage

BD Three crosses

A poster of Three Wooden Crosses which was staged on May 03, 2024, by the Kenyatta University theatre students. 

Kenyatta University (KU) theatre students staged their version of Three Wooden Crosses last Friday night (May 3, 2024) on a distinctly untheatrical stage in Harrison Hall.

But making do with the best space the school had to offer, the show opened (an hour late) with a heart-wrenching monologue on the unpredictability of life by a ‘little girl’ named Angel who promises to illustrate her point about what is coming next.

The rest of the play, scripted, and directed by Michael Mwangi, is a flashback, set inside a brothel.

The young sex workers are having fun, dancing and laughing among themselves, apart from one. Maya (Mercy Kajuju) is drunk and looking miserable. She had become pregnant by one of her clients and she’d planned on keeping it. But she tragically miscarried and weeps now for having lost the one way she thought she could use to escape the tyranny of their pimp.

But he’s more interested in one of the other sex workers, Tiana, who’s dressed up differently from the erotic attire of the other girls. She looks more like any other secretary in town, not like her skimpily-dressed ‘sisters’ who she plans to leave that very day. She wants to be done with sex work, to go back and be with her child, who happens to be Angel. But that’s easier said than done as we see when he arrives to find his ‘whores’ (as he calls Tiana) amusing themselves rather than doing their job, which is to solicit men and make him money.

He calls Tiana aside and asks her to do one last job. She rebels, but he reminds her with several hard slaps that she still ‘belongs’ to him. He proceeds to do the classic psychological put-down of the woman by mentally and verbally beating down her self-confidence, making her feel like nobody and nothing. It’s ugly and outdated but unfortunately, it’s still a chauvinistic male method to control the woman. The physical beating is what finally leads to her agreeing to one last client. As it turns out, he’s a blind man who believes he has come to a reputable hotel, not a brothel.

His first inkling of it is when Tiana tries to seduce him, and he is shocked. Then Pimp comes in and confirms his thoughts, whereupon the blind man wants to leave immediately. But then, he too is at the mercy of the pimp who has planned to poison him for some undisclosed reason. We assume it’s because the man is rich. In any case, Pimp gives Riana a glass of water steeped in poison for her to give to the innocent blind guy. He drinks it, and sure enough, he dies.

Tiana is stunned by the ease with which Pimp can kill a man. He looks prepared to bump her off too since she knows too much. But he’s busy reminding her that the glass containing the poison had her fingerprints all over it. He’d planned to kill her and then there would be no contest over who killed the blind guy.

But Tiana’s a fighter and a quick thinker. She grabs the glass, throws it down hard to break, and then grabs the most jagged piece of the broken glass, which still has poison on the sliver. Then she struggles with Pimp until she can stab him with her ingenious blade. He too dies, and she runs with Angel who’d been waiting to flee with her mom.

Meanwhile, the play has a parallel story of a pastor who visits prisons and meets an inmate, Jack on the day before he is set to get out. The pastor is so impressed by Jack’s performance that he offers him a job saving souls. So once Jack’s released, they meet and start travelling together.

The two stories meet at a bus stop where Jack and the Pastor encounter Tiana and Angel.

The Pastor offers to assist the mother and child. Initially, Tiana declines his offer, but then, goes into sex worker mode in order to ask him for fare.

Angel sees her mom try to seduce this innocent man, and in frustration runs away from her mother for good. There’s a futile search for Angel, after which they board the bus in mime-style. But the bus crashes and three of the four passengers die. Thus, the title, Three Wooden Crosses.

Unfortunately, the ending is clumsy so it’s unclear that Tiana is the one who survives. but that’s the play’s end.

Lots of unresolved questions remain, leaving us dangling and dissatisfied and wanting more clarity and resolution.

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