Crony productions have the problem of being born from a gigantically popular theatre company, Heartstrings Entertainment.
It’s a problem only because Heartstrings is renowned for its theatrical, social, and comedic excellence, which is something Crony is bound to be compared to.
That’s no problem in the sense that the three ex-Heartstrings members who came out to produce Crony were among Heartstrings’ best, namely Nick Kwach, Cyprian Osoro, and Victor Nyaati.
All three were widely popular and had fans who followed them into the Crony camp.
What enhanced Crony’s ability to come out theatrically with a clear sense of direction is its director, Dennis Ndenga who served for years as Heartstrings’ deputy director, second only to the boss, Sammy Mwangi, one of the company’s founders some 20 years ago.
Asked recently how he felt about the formation of Crony, Mwangi told BDLife, “It’s a healthy sign of growth in the theatre industry, and we are happy for them.”
As to whether he felt Heartstrings had been betrayed by the troika’s shift in loyalties, Mwangi said, “Absolutely not,” since it opened up space in the company for another crop or generation of young actors to emerge on the Heartstrings platform.
Yet it is difficult not to compare the two troupes because Heartstrings has developed a powerful template for theatrical presentation. And Crony has drawn a lot of inspiration and style from it.
For instance, both companies entitle their plays with oblique phrases that seem to have little or no relevance to the story or context itself.
The title of Crony’s production, staged last weekend at Alliance Francaise, was Are you still coming? which is speaking to whom about what?
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The comedy itself doesn’t really answer those questions. Meanwhile, Heartstrings is notable for never (or rarely ever) giving its plays a title that made sense as it relates to their plays.
Last week, they staged Here comes the bribe where again, one couldn’t find one person in the play being bribed or bribing another human being.
But titles are just one of the ways that Crony emulates Heartstrings. There are explosive electronic videos at the outset of their plays, something Heartstrings invariably does.
And it is during those brief electronic interludes, presented in both cases on a big white screen, that the cast is identified. Finally, even the performance venue of both companies, Alliance Francaise, is the same.
So what’s the difference between them? Apparently, it’s not in the scripting since just as Heartstrings doesn’t claim one person writes their plays, so Crony also doesn't identify one person as their playwright.
Instead, both casts normally devise their scripts by brainstorming a story collectively, after which one person writes up all the ideas into the script.
It’s the content of the story that’s the difference. In Here comes the bribe, a bunch of relatives are coming together to celebrate their patriarch’s birthday.
The old man’s younger wife is putting up decorations in the home, but the men don’t pay much attention to her.
All the action revolves around the reunion of the menfolk including Osoro Cyprian, Victor Nyaati and Nick Kwach meeting and making fun, up until the time when they get the news that the dad is dead.
Suddenly, the family goes to court since the men are apparently challenging the wife’s right to inherit the estate of her spouse.
Yet here is where we have to quibble with Crony since something doesn’t quite make sense.
First of all, it’s typical to find men muscling in on women’s right to own property.
Widows, especially have a hard time with men believing it’s their entitlement to take over the deceased brother’s or father’s properties. In some cultures, it’s even the women who are still seen as property to be inherited by the men.
But now, it’s the court that’s supposed to decide. The lawyer defending the mama (Marion Chike) is Kwach while the men’s lawyer is Osoro. After shallow explanations of the legal claims and counter-claims, the Judge (Nicky Onyieni) is called upon to give her judgment. But she basically reads the will of the late patriarch which gives the men ownership of the land.
But the mama is the executor of the will and she has the full power to decide who gets what when and how. It’s not exactly a punchline, especially as the will must have been read before. In any case, Crony like Heartstrings is standing up for the rights of women, and that’s a good plan.