Art

New playwright, new cliffhanger

Oblivion2

Sandra (Vivian Pambo) collapses in arms of friend Akira (Sarah Masese) in ‘The Heart of Oblivion’ at the Kenya National Theatre, on March, 13. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • ‘The Heart of Oblivion’ isn’t Brian Christopher Orina’s first production.
  • The first script he produced was Excommunicado which he directed at Nakuru Players Theatre back before he went to Kenyatta University.
  • Then came And Justice for All which he successfully staged at Nairobi Cinema in 2018 while he was still at KU.
  • But nothing he had scripted or staged before could have prepared his fans for Heart of Oblivion.

‘The Heart of Oblivion’ isn’t Brian Christopher Orina’s first production.

The first script he produced was Excommunicado which he directed at Nakuru Players Theatre back before he went to Kenyatta University but after he’d complete studies at Nairobi School and was teaching theatre arts at a secondary school nearby.

Then came And Justice for All which he successfully staged at Nairobi Cinema in 2018 while he was still at KU.

But nothing he had scripted or staged before could have prepared his fans for Heart of Oblivion.

Combining everything from fantasy and murder mystery to role play, romance, therapy, and detective thriller, Oblivion even has a series of flashbacks to ensure we catch up with the harrowing story of a young woman (Vivian Pamba) with too many lovers in her life.

Sandra’s story would have most likely been uneventful if she had taken her father’s (Orina himself) advice and married Brian, the perfect ‘catch’. Wealthy, handsome, witty, smart, and adoring of Sandra, she (sadly for her dad) threw Brian over for Harvey (Clinton Mwiti).

In his drunken soliloquy, Dad laments his daughter’s foolhardy choice of wedding a low class, low-life like Harvey. As the play quickly unfolds in the form of a therapy session between Sandra and her best friend cum therapist Akira (Sarah Masesa), we quickly learn that Dad was correct at least in so far as Sandra is now stuck with a wife-abuser who nearly killed her.

Or rather, her heart stopped for 22 seconds after Harvey’s brutal beating. So technically he did kill her after he’d come home drunk, demanding supper but none had been prepared since he’d forgotten to leave her funds to buy food. A vicious beating ensued (all in flashback). but Sandra somehow revived. And as she tells Akira, and shows us in another flashback, upon her awakening from her ‘death’, she meets Elias (Godwin Ochieng), a man whom she immediately falls head over heels for.

The mysterious chemistry between the two of them is one reason Akira takes off her therapist hat and advises her friend to leave Harvey before it’s too late.

But before Sandra gets to that, we witness the chemistry as she and Elias entertain one another role playing a detective tale in which Sandra murders her husband, and gets interrogated by Elias playing the cop. The interaction between them is passionate and persuasive on both sides and raises a heap of controversial issues. But the point of this powerful flashback is for Sandra to show Akira how deeply they ‘get’ one another.

The one unfortunate scene in the show is when we are flashbacked into an all-night ‘dance scene’ between the two lovers. The dance is clearly meant to be almost erotic. But instead, it amuses the audience for the couple’s efforts to be sexually provocative but not quite pornographic. In short, the scene doesn’t work.

What make Heart of Oblivion a fantasy in my mind is the tricky treatment of Sandra’s heart transplant, which we don’t hear much about in the first part of the play. But now in the present, Akira has startling news to tell her friend which Sandra almost doesn’t have time to hear.

She has already confronted Harvey with her plan to divorce him. Not a very wise move to tell a drunken guy who you already know has violent tendencies. But Sandra endures another beating before he heads back to the bar. She’s busy packing up when Akira blows her mind with the discovery she has made.

Elias actually died the same day that Sandra got her new heart, Akira reports. The implications are overwhelming. Does that mean she got his heart and a bit of his spirit too? Does it mean she somehow had fantasised their whole love affair and she had fallen for a ghost?

It’s a concept we have seen on stage before. But it’s a zinger nonetheless. Akira’s news hits Sandra so hard she nearly faints. But coincidentally, Elias - dressed in all white - appears briefly to apparently reassure her she wasn’t dreaming. It’s a hopeful (almost Biblical) moment.

But then, Harvey the drunken spoiler returns and Sandra’s despair seems overwhelming.

She collapses into her best friend’s arms, and the scene and story ends. But does Sandra’s life end too?

Here again, we have another cliff-hanger: Does Sandra die? Or does the spirit of Elias sustain her and keep her alive? The playwright doesn’t tell, so it is left up to us to decide.

It’s a bit farfetched, but Orina and his cast make it work.