Arts

Off the Record: Heartstrings pulls off masterful twist in surrogacy play

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Bernice Kyalo (centre) with her two girlfriends in ‘Off the Record’ at Alliance française on February 4, 2024. PHOTO | POOL

Heartstring Players are the most consistent band of storytellers in Kenya.

They offer their fans a monthly stream of entertainment that invariably makes us laugh and always provides stunning endings that are unanticipated.

It happened last weekend when Heartstrings came up with Off the Record at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi when we certainly did not expect the one who ultimately popped up with the punchline to be none other than ... no, I won't be a spoiler, Not yet.

The other feature that one consistently finds in their comedies is the regular infusion of current social issues affecting local communities. Among them are problematic gender relations as well as family dilemmas, like the hazards of hiring family members to work for you.

The play begins with an irascible Clotilda (Bernice Kyalo) complaining to the Cook (Saviour Arnold) about his behaviour since he is lazy and takes advantage of being a cousin to her spouse. But by the time Timo (Tim Ndisii) shows up, she's prepared to transfer her complaints to him.

As it turns out, Clotilda has her own insecurities. She's miserable because she doesn’t have a job and all her business start-ups have failed. That is why she needs financial support from him. He doesn't give it because he doesn't have it, he says. When she refuses to believe him, he breaks down his seemingly sumptuous Sh300,000 salary, including all the taxes, that he pays out. In so doing, he exposes the painful reality that many Kenyans face, which is insufficient funds to make ends meet.

Read: Heartstrings hits on the complexities of marriage

Tim finally confesses to his wife that rather than having money to lend her, he is actually in debt up to his ears. 

This news leads to the humbling of Clotilda who's remorseful now and filled with sweet apologies to Tim as she hadn't realised how much he'd been keeping his troubles to himself. But in the process of their full disclosures, she confesses that after seven years of wedlock and having no child, she feels guilty about that as well.

All this truth-telling is apparently exhausting for Clotilda who we find is fast asleep in the next scene when her two girlfriends barge into her home. They assume she's in bed after being beaten by her man. Coming from a demonstration that called for an end to domestic violence, it's no wonder they are fueled with self-righteous accusations against Timo.

They also claim that one way she can make money is to become a surrogate mother. This essentially means that she sells her womb to the highest bidder.

'Turns out, that is exactly what she does. (But surrogacy is hardly a feminist ethic). Apparently, she's so desperate to find funds to start her hardware business that she's prepared to lie to her spouse, even as he is elated that, after all this time, he will finally be a dad.

Timo is not around when the doctor (Dadson Gakenga) arrives to check up on his patient. That's when she confesses to him that she's married despite a criterion to becoming a surrogate is that you must be single. The doctor looks disturbed by her confession, but as the business is an undercover affair (rather like the illegal trafficking of children), he keeps quiet.

The couple who've commissioned him to find them a surrogate are Joel and his wife, and they have already met Clotilda. What's stunning about this scene is imagining how Clotilda is going to explain her circumstance to Timo, and how the couple who intend to own that baby will cope with the concept of their surrogate being a married woman.

To begin with, she tells Timo the child is his. He is so elated, he decides to have a baby shower for the unborn child. He doesn't care that such an occasion is inappropriate. He has already invited 13 friends to celebrate with him.

Read: Crony like, Heartstrings, stands up for women's rights

One of them is the Doctor who had gone to secondary school with Timo. He walks in relaxed, but once he meets his old friend's wife, Clotilda, he practically chokes on the crisps. But when Joel and his wife show up to check on their surrogate, the situation implodes.

Now is the time when Clotilda has no choice but to spill the beans. The baby belongs to Joel and his wife. But here comes the punchline. It's for the doctor to now confess: he never used the fertilised egg because Clotilda was already two months pregnant! Kaboom! The end.

Assess Heartstrings as you will, but they're good at creating stories that make you think.

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