Liquid Arts Productions needs to be lauded for promoting the development of young Kenyan playwrights.
That includes members of the company like Hadasa Kariuki and Caleb Kuria who co-scripted the play the group just produced this past weekend at Ukumbi Mdogo,
‘Pick or Peak’ is the cryptic name they gave to their play.
It’s a family drama about everything from sibling rivalry and infidelity to secrets that deserve full disclosure to save the innocent from getting entangled in emotional concerns they can hardly understand, leave alone resolve.
“Pick or Peak is all about forgiveness, a quality in keeping with the Spirit of the season,” explains the play’s producer Kelvin Manda on Saturday.
That is all well and good, but I still want to understand the title. It takes a conversation with the show’s director Peter Tosh to get an interpretation of Pick of Peak that makes sense.
“It’s the cucu [of Isaac and Jude] and mother of Pauline and Sophie who has to ‘pick’, or make a [critical] choice,” Tosh tells BDLife right after the play’s matinee. “It is also the mother who has to feel the emotional peak of the situation before she can finally come out and tell her truth to her family,” adds Stephen Kamau who plays Isaac, the grandson of the cucu.
Now the play makes sense, but before this, there is much about ‘Pick or Peak’ that I did not understand until the last minute when Mama Sophie (Isabella Moraa) finally spills the beans and apologizes to the members of her family whom she had kept in the dark for probably twenty years.
We can’t be sure how much time passed since the first scene when Pauline (Veronica Mwangi) comes out screaming and howling with hot air and hostility about the way she has been mistreated by everyone in her family.
She claims she was hated by her father and sister Sophie (Maria Beja Mutawe) and neglected by her mum who had remained silent and passive all the while that she was being abused.
Pauline has already packed her bags and is nearly out the door when her mum appears and begs her not to go.
But her reaching out has come too late. Pauline goes and is not seen again until the last scene.
Timelines are very loosely delineated in Pick or Peak.
That means there are no clear transitional markers to help us know how much time has passed from scene to scene.
For instance, in the second scene, we meet Isaac, Sophie’s grown-up son who has just graduated from university with honours.
Then, another mysterious young man (Tony Ngigi) shows up in Isaac’s home, behaving like an intruder who could be a crook, conman, or killer.
He doesn’t identify himself and has the good fortune to arrive when neither Sophie nor her mother is around.
We only learn that the two lads are cousins (the new fellow being the son of Pauline who arrives shortly after her son). She starts off immediately to reactivate her howling accusations (as if no time had elapsed) since her sister Sophie arrives just moments before she has.
Their shouting session is about to get physical and messy when their mom shows up and begs them to stand down. As a way of defusing the heat, Mama Sophie finally tells the truth she had concealed for so long.
The secret she’d been too meek to admit is that she had a child out of wedlock and during her marriage. That child was Pauline, which is why the man she thought was her dad mistreated her so venomously. She embodied the humiliating truth that his wife had been unfaithful.
While not excusing herself, the cucu further explains how he had once been a loving man, but something happened and he took his rage out on his wife. She had kept silent out of fear, but now she has nothing to lose.
It was gratifying to find the situation resolved, the dangling details finally explained. But we needed to see more of the cucu earlier in the play, not just at its end.
Then there was the issue of the hired help, (Mweni Mwende Kingori and Caleb Kuria) who are both jokesters who are apparently in the story to add a light touch to the intensely dark and angry dialogue.
But I’m not sure they helped advance the storyline.
Either way, once pick or peak gets workshopped, my hope is that it will improve dramatically.