Having seen most of the plays by Walter Sitati —who is currently out of the country studying theatre arts down South, I feel he is one of Kenya’s finest playwrights.
I’m not alone in this assessment. His latest play was recently shortlisted in a global theatre competition. Out of hundreds of scripts submitted to the Cimientos Play Development Project, Sitati’s was one of 10 that recently had a public reading in New York that I would have loved to see.
In the meantime, Igiza Players produced Sitati’s play, ‘All I ever wanted’ last weekend at Kenya Cultural Centre. Igiza did a fine job under the direction of Arnold Wreiner. But I still find this play one of the most cryptic and curious of all of Sitati’s plays.
Set within the Court, home, and judicial chambers of Judge Frank Harvey (Jeff Obonyo), the play opens in his courtroom. He appears to be a proud, autocratic, and no-nonsense man who will have three cases to rule on. That is not including the more personal cases he’ll have to decide in relation to his family and his love life.
The courtroom cases are quirky but compelling. The first is a murder charge. The victim was a sick woman on a life-support system that got unplugged by her daughter whose priority was charging her mobile phone. The unplugging led to her mother’s demise. So, could the daughter be held responsible for her mother’s death?
The girl’s lawyer was asking for leniency since she is ‘addicted’ to her phone. It all sounds ridiculous, except that someone died. It’s also true that young people are often obsessed with their phones. Indeed, even Judge Frank’s son Nicholas is infatuated with his phone.
But one doesn’t normally associate the phone with murder. The advocate arguing most forcefully for the girl being held accountable for murder is one of the judge’s former girlfriends who still has the hots for him.
Laura (Milkah Wangui) is out to revive that relationship. Meanwhile, the judge is making a lame attempt to rectify his relationship with his wife who’s embittered by his infidelity but hopeful he will help her keep their daughter in school.
There are lots of sub-plots interwoven into Sitati’s script. Corruption is the most insidious one. Frank’s wife is the first to draw attention to the corrupting role of infidelity. But it’s the second case that comes to Judge Frank’s court that draws the most glaring attention to a ‘deep state’ sort of influence on the courts and society at large.
The case itself is against Citizen Y (Venessa Gichio) who refuses to pay her taxes. She stands on an ethical position: the State misuses taxpayers’ funds and doesn’t provide public services in the process.
Judge Frank admires Citizen Y for her principled position. But he plans to jail her for three years anyway. Nonetheless, once he is visited by an undercover agent who wants the verdict to be harsher, Frank decides to let her off with a rap on her knuckles.
Finally, Judge Frank’s third case is just as surreal as the first one.
A young man is suing his former girlfriend for broken promises and a broken heart. The case is nearly dismissed since it sounds crazy. But the man’s lawyer is Laura, who has an affinity for such feelings since Frank had once promised to marry her. That got broken after Frank was appointed a judge. Apparently, he realised it wasn’t wise to have girlfriends on the side since it was bad for judicial business.
As it turned out, Laura got her client’s rival on the witness stand. He turns out to be Nicholas, Judge Frank’s son, the one who’s just as obsessed with his phone as the girl who pulled the plug on her mom’s life support.
Surprisingly, the courtroom becomes the scene where the girlfriend changes her mind and goes back to Laura’s client, winning her this round. She tries to follow it up with a quick trip to Frank’s chamber so she can win him back as well. But he's still trying to make things right with his wife. It doesn’t work.
But then, the play has a peculiar ending. Frank finally succumbs to Laura’s advances. We are left with nobody redeemed, except maybe the mom and the daughter who have reconciled.
Otherwise, ‘All I ever wanted’ is aspirational, a hope that maybe one day, rule of law will prevail in Kenya. But not yet.