Echoes an intro into the multiverse

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Martin Kigondu and Wanjiku Mwawaganga in Echoes at Cheche Gallery, Kenya Cultural Centre, February 12, 2023. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Echoes, the play that ran last weekend in the Cheche Gallery of Kenya Cultural Centre, is not a script that everyone will understand, leave alone adore as I do.

To some, it might seem redundant, and so repetitive it makes no sense. Others might feel it’s not a play at all since there is no single story, only a series of multiple starts and stops, with no apparent reason or rhyme.

Meanwhile, others could complain that there’s almost a storyline underlying the quick shift of emotional riffs.

But everything keeps changing. And every time the two characters are prepared to take whatever they have to the next level, the story dies and expectations with it.

Then there are those who got lost once Miriam (Wanjiku Mwawuganga) started talking about quantum physics and string theory.

What’s all that, having never had a physics class or cared much about such things? They may have heard of Albert Einstein, the genius who discovered the theory of relativity, but haven’t heard much about those other heady topics.

In any case, it might seem improbable to see a beekeeper and a physicist having much in common, other than sex. But that is one thing that never happens in Echoes (apart from a couple of hugs and one kiss).

 Of course, we hear about infidelity between Ronald (Martin Kigondu) and a woman named Angela, and between Miriam and a 24-year-old guy.

His youth made her something of a ‘cougar’ in one or two of the mini-stories that combine to create this multifaceted saga.

It’s a saga that might or might not have one cohesive thread that runs through the entirety of the play, but did that really matter?

One gets the feeling this fascinating script isn’t about one story, or about just two individuals. It’s about the infinite possibilities that their relationship might take.

One gets the best clue about what this production is about from the sequence where Miriam tries to explain her work to Ronald and he gets lost from the word go.

But she is so intensely involved explaining her perspective, she doesn’t notice that he’s not with her mentally. She tries to explain to him the complex theory related to parallel universes.

The play itself seems to illustrate that notion, that people could be living many different lives simultaneously, depending on which realm of experience they are dwelling in.

It’s a concept that is hot in science fiction currently. But it is not the sort of thing that comes up in ‘small talk’ or simple chit chat. In any case, Miriam only brings it up once in the play.

Otherwise, the theory seems to have influenced the shape and structure of the script.

For instance, why would one set of words be used by the actors several times in sequence; yet in every instance, there are different moods and emotions expressed, while the words themselves remain the same.

So, one can see that it’s the emotional content (not merely the words) that give the substance and strength of expression to the meaning of the language.

But for all the misunderstandings of Echoes, I must appreciate all that I liked about it. I applaud all who were involved in bringing Echoes to Cheche Gallery’s cozy stage.

That includes the four local writers, namely director Esther Kamba, and actors Martin Kigondu, Wanjiku Mwawuganga, and Joseph Obel who adapted and indigenized the original script entitled Constellations by the British playwright Nick Payne.

I also appreciate the way the crew set up a theatre-in-the-round so the actors were challenged to play to all four sets of audience seats in the course of the show.

And I especially loved the cast of Kigondu and Wanjiku for having the guts to take on such an intensely personal play, one that demanded all the emotional energy that he or she could find.

The script was balance in that both Kigondu and Wanjiku got to play it gentle and vulnerable, fierce and antagonistic, and the whole range of other intense emotions that ran in between or beyond the extremes.

Both actors got to be rejected as well as embraced; both got to reveal their emotional empathy; and both got to weep and display their vulnerabilities while both got to stand up for what they believed.

That was even true once Miriam got hit, either with a stroke or a cancer that robbed her literally of her freedom of speech, but it finally allowed him to climb into the heart and soul of her life.