Heartstrings and Crony spin back-to-back tales of treachery in society

Tim Ndisii 3

Fischer Maina of Heartstrings’ at the Alliance Francaise stage.

Photo credit: Pool

It was pure coincidence that two of our favourite comedy theatre companies staged shows this past weekend.

It’s even more of a coincidence that both were reflecting on the condition of the con man and con woman and how so many Kenyans have taken their hustle into that space. It’s not a coincidence, however, that several who played a central role in the formation of The Crony were once members of Heartstrings.

Indeed, even Heartstrings’ (HS) assistant director to Sammy Mwangi shifted to Crony where he’s now the man in charge of directing this talented team of actors. Yet HS director Mwangi has dealt with many young actors who come and gain immense experience at Heartstrings, and then move on, especially into film. He’s developed HS into a brilliant training ground where newcomers to the stage get their chance to learn how to listen, act, and work with an experienced director like Sammy.

It was Crony Players who illustrated that conmen are everywhere these days, which is why the title, Red Flag is appropriate. Kenyan con artists are turning out to be some of the most ingenious, quick-thinking crooks that we’ve seen on stage or socially.

Red Flag begins with a trio of hustlers living on the edge of slum life in a tiny room with one narrow bed. From there, they all work for a mafia-type guy from whom they swiped Sh150,000 and he’s not going to let them get away with it. He comes banging on their front door, throwing them into a panic. They all rush to their online con tricks, hoping to make some quick cash.

But then, Osoro gets a call from a supposedly American woman he’s gotten to know online. She’s so hot to see him in person that she’s just arrived apparently from abroad. Now there’s even more pressure. But what’s worse is that the mother of Osoro’s child arrives, lambasting him for not giving her child support. That whole scene breaks down into Act 2.

Now they’ve moved over to the Westlands side of town where they’re supposedly renting a beautiful flat. The man showing them around (Humphrey Maina) is actually the caretaker, but he’s posing as the man in charge. They have no cash. Just enough to tip Humphrey so they can use the place for now for nothing.

Then, just before the ‘American’ shows up, the woman wanting child support arrives. But as she is a troublemaker, she gets thrown into one of the bedrooms with her hands tied and mouth gagged. Then when the ‘American’ arrives, she’s got a big bag supposedly stuffed with cash. Of course, the trio are after the bag; but then the police officer (Ben Tekee) shows up and starts arresting everyone present.

All mayhem breaks loose as nobody wants to go to jail. But in the turmoil, the 'American' takes off with the Sh150,000 the trio had somehow raised to bribe the police officer; meaning both she and the cops were in cahoots to leave the amateur conmen her bag filled with dust and no cash inside.

The final blow comes when the single mother gets released from the physical lock-down they’d thrown her in to keep her quiet. When she’s let out, one more truth is revealed. She had been conning Osoro all along. In reality, it’s Humphrey, the caretaker who is the baby’s father. And that’s the final punch line.

Meanwhile, across town from Braeburn Theatre where Crony was performing, Heartstrings was staging Right Place Wrong Time at Alliance Francaise. But something went wrong this time with the company. What they brought us was by no means a comedy. There were a couple of con artists, but they weren’t the key players in this month’s melodrama.

The lead in Wrong Time was Fischer Maina playing a sickly old man who’s miserable and busy inflicting his negativity on those around him, especially on his wife (Jerita Mwake). He shoots down all her positive plans with sharp mental darts, poisoned with booze that he drinks nonstop.

She wants a child but he can’t have one since his private parts got somehow smashed in between double doors. He also needs a new kidney so when one arrives, all on stage are tested for their blood type. That’s when we meet a young girl (Lydia Wabosha) who he’s prepared to adopt since he believes she is his child. But no, she has also been spawned by the caretaker (Mitch Osibori).

It’s disappointing, especially to us who came for comedy, not disheartening tragedy.

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