Little girl's worth lost until the show's end


'A Little Girl’s Worth' cast at Kenya National Theatre on Sunday. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Derrick Waswa’s play, ‘A Little Girl’s Worth’, which was staged last Sunday at Kenya National Theatre, was full of surprises.

One was the discovery on arrival that we would be watching two plays, not just one. The announcer said we would see the same cast but playing different roles. We were left wondering which one would be about that ‘little girl’, only to discover that neither one introduced us to her.

We did meet Rose, Jezebel, and Aquila in the second ‘act’, but none of them were ‘little’ apart from Rose who, at 20, was already contemplating marriage. We also met older, professional women, Natalia and Hilda in act one.

Hilda actually had a little girl, but Angel was mute and died after having an allergic reaction to food her mother brought her supposedly as a treat.

So it wasn’t very clear why Waswa would have titled his play with that name, especially as the first segment of the show was all about a young man, Alex who was raised by a single mom to be a pediatrician despite his passion being for music and dance, two dimensions of the performing arts that popped up frequently in the show.

In both acts, there’s a man that is put on trial, and in both cases, he is convicted of harsh charges. In the first, Alex is found guilty of the murder of a young girl after being newly appointed to work at the Royal Pediatric Hospital, where he’s called to an emergency to save Angel’s life. But he is so enamored with his own voice that he totally neglects the needs of the child.

In act two, it’s Daniel who is charged with treating women as sexual objects, a crime that is the gist of women’s complaint against him and all men who benefit from patriarchy and the cultural beliefs associated with notions of male superiority, dominance, sexual violence. 

It's in the last scene of the second act that we finally get the underlying theme of the play. it is when all the women in the show, many of whom are dancers, step into the play to both enliven the proceedings and inadvertently distract us from grasping that theme.


'A Little Girl’s Worth' cast at Kenya National Theatre on Sunday. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Waswa, who also directed the show, probably didn’t understand how his theme may have gotten muddled as his audience got transfixed by these young agile [mainly] students, most of whom were in their 20s and regularly reminding us of the Kenyan women’s chant, ‘my dress, my choice’.

It was in the last scene of ‘A Little Girl’s Worth’ that the young women made a series of clearcut statements against patriarchy. It also allowed every woman to voice her antithetical views of what a ‘real man’ is and is not. He is not a sexist or someone who believes he’s superior to a woman.

He is not someone who believes he can own a woman as if she were a piece of property. But a real man is one who respects women and acknowledges their ability and right to make choices for themselves.

Clearly, these women and the playwright himself implicitly acknowledge the equality of women and men, irrespective of what ordinary men might believe. They also emphatically reject the objectification of women’s bodies

What was confusing about the play is that up until this last point in the second act, one didn’t see either a ‘little girl’ or a grown women who expressed the ‘worth’ that this younger generation of women seemed to demand. That is not to say there were not many strong-willed women in the show.

In fact, there were quite a few, including Jezebel who had an advanced degree in law, and Hilda who was a nurse wholly committed to her career, and Aquila who ran a children’s home and also raised her adopted son, Daniel.

Daniel was a young man who exemplified the type of confusion that the playwright created by trying to juggle too many sub-plots all at once. For at one point in the second act, he bullies his girlfriend Rose (who we discover is actually her step-sister since Jezebel is both of their mothers).

He also tries to boss her around and make her change her style of dress. But then, after he’s arrested and charged with the ‘crime’ of being a male supremacist, he pleads guilty.

Fortunately, the show finally ends with a sense of clarity as the women shamelessly identify as ‘feminist’ meaning they’re all for gender equality.