Kenyan playwrights have apparently taken up the habit of naming their plays with mystifying titles, like “I am not a Simp: I respect women.’
Under his breath, I think I heard that phrase uttered by the rapist in the play, Pastor Zebede (Evans Katana) who was Prof Zebedayo when he assaulted his student Stephanie (Cheryl Margie) whom we learn towards the play’s end, is also her father, having raped her mother before her. Nonetheless, it’s never clearly revealed what a ‘simp’ is.
What we do know is that ‘Simp’ is essentially Stephanie’s story. She’s a woman (Miriam Ingasiani) about to be executed for the crime of allowing her twins to be injected with the AIDS virus and thus become human guinea pigs.
The executioner is one of the twins, Caine (Brian Ngugi). He wants revenge against her for giving him the dreaded disease. But he’s stopped by his twin, Abel (Matthew Ngugi) who wants to hear her side of the story.
In real life, an execution can’t be stopped to hear the convicted one’s version of the case. But justice, according to Waswa, allows the rest of his play to be mostly a flashback on how the mother’s hopes and dreams got shattered. Nonetheless, she tried her best to give the boys a good life.
Her story essentially aims to reveal the plight of an ordinary woman, a single mother, in our society today. Stephanie also wants her sons to understand how she could have relieved herself of much pain if she hadn’t cared for them as she did. As she says, she could’ve aborted them, let them be adopted, or dumped them in the trash.
She could’ve rejected the chance to see them grow up with a nice roof over their heads, good food, good education, with only a minimal risk of dying young from AIDS.
She didn’t do any of that. Instead, after being thrown out of her mother’s home for having twins instead of a university degree, and finding no jobs, she takes to prostitution. But her run in with gang rapists (one of whom was her dad, the teacher) leads her to pursue her last resort. That is to allow her twins be injected with the HIV/AIDS virus.
Waswa’s script has countless twists and turns to it. In the process, he injects brilliant vocalists and even better dancers, the first one being Stephanie (number two, Cheryl Margie). She’s an incredible dancer whose display of both athleticism and eroticism prove this girl could go far if professionally trained.
She gets accepted for dance studies but her dreams are thwarted by her mom who insists she go to university and study CRE, not dance. In her frustration, she skips her final exam and goes to perform outside instead. After that, she has only one recourse to getting a passing grade. She takes it. So, does his sexual assault on her constitute rape or mutual compliance?
Either way, it gives her twins and nowhere to go except to the streets to keep herself and her sons alive. The violent gang rape that she experiences there (by Stephanie, Purity Muthoni) is just one of the numerous sexually explosive mimed scenes in the play. This one illustrates how precarious a lifestyle prostitution really is, with or without twins to care for.
In her quest to find security for herself and her boys that she meets the medic who promises her a well-funded future if she allows him to turn the twins into human guinea pigs. Her decision, seen in this context, makes more sense.
What isn’t clear is how the boys get adopted by Jabali and Tina, and how Stephanie senior serves as their nanny for twenty years. What’s also unclear is why the cops show up one day looking for the man called Judas whose crime apparently was getting human babies to be used for medical experimentation.
Somehow Stephanie is implicated with him and the Court finds their crimes so heinous they are both sentenced to die (in a poorly designed execution chamber). Ultimately, Waswa turns off the lights just before Caine re-asserts his desire to execute his mom, so we technically don’t know if he did it or not.
Either way, Waswa’s play has marvelous choreography and mellifluous voices. He illustrates the single mother’s struggles and the way a girl child’s thwarted dreams can affect her entire life. Clearly, it’s better to listen and help the child be true to herself. But Waswa’s script, however entertaining and titillating, leaves gaps we’d wish to see filled with clarity.