Arts

The agony and ecstasy of building a house in Kitengela

play

Gitura Kamau, William Ondiege, and Apiophice Mwenda in Fred Mbogo’s play, ‘How to build a house in Kitengela’ at Kenya Cultural Centre on June 21. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

When have you ever seen a play that elicited both agony and ecstasy simultaneously? Well, I did last week, watching Fred Mbogo’s ‘How to build a house in Kitengela’ at Kenya Cultural Centre.

If you had seen the show’s title on social media and supposed you might like to learn how to do exactly that; or you planned one day to build a house of your own, and thought you might pick up a few tips by watching the play, then forget it.

There is a house in Kitengela in the play, all right. A house that supposedly cost Omari (William Ondiege) and Monica (Apiophice Mwenda) Sh17 million to obtain. But that is not the most egregious fact told to Kimondo (Gitura Kamau) by the couple to explain where exactly his Sh43 million went.

Kimondo had come home from South Africa just to be in the Sh43 million blockbuster movie that Omari had supposedly scripted and Kimondo was set to star in. He had been a successful film and sit-com star down south, but the lure of working with an old friend and becoming a Big Fish back home brought him back.

Kimondo’s arrival at Omari’s Juzi Juzi Productions office seems to take Omari by surprise. He hesitates to tell his friend what has happened to the Sh43 million. He is only prepared to speak of the ‘challenges’ that had to be faced once the money arrived.

Chemistry between the two actors is palpable. They had been on stage together years ago, but their theatrical kinship came alive as Kimondo and Omari also hadn’t seen each other for a while.

Kimondo’s missing button on his jeans serves as a fair (and fun) distraction enabling Omari to avoid explaining the whereabouts of the multi-millions. It also lightens the moment before Omari starts punching holes in Kimondo’s dream of being a blockbuster film star.

Kimondo doesn’t seem to care that his buttonless jeans are exposing his red, white, and blue underwear. He has fun toying with Omari’s obvious homophobia, an attitude less prevalent down south where same-sex marriage is legal and has been since 2006.

But once he realises his friend is being evasive about the Sh43 million, he pulls out his whisky jug and quietly starts drinking as if to signal his impending anxiety. This is when the agony starts to set in, both for Kimondo and for me.

This is when Fred Mbogo brilliantly lays out the argument (which begins as a light rain, grows into a hurricane) in a low-key style of how corruption has become endemic in Kenyan society. It’s not just a problem at the top, although the taxman, upon hearing about the Sh43 million, comes running to eat up several million of the film budget.

It seems that everybody needs their cut in the funds that have come in to make the film. They include everyone from KRA and Customs to the landlord and Omari’s office manager Monica (Apoiphice Mwenda) who turns out to also be Omari’s wife.

Turning out to be the most ferocious fighter in favour of ‘eating’ at every chance, she ensured (with Omari’s mousy compliance) that after deductions for all of the above expenses, there was still enough to cover the cost of their marriage, her deceased mother’s hospital bills, and ultimately, even their house in Kitengela which Omari says cost Sh17 million.

Watching — and wincing with Kimondo — as first Omari and then Monica explains every single deduction, what is clear is that everyone needed their cut. And by implication, one feels we are witnessing what is Kenya’s current reality, that corruption and kickbacks have become commonplace even among ordinary Kenyans.

What’s agonising about ‘How to build…’ is the way Mbogo intentionally builds the tension between Kimondo whose outrage grows gradually with news of each deduction from the Sh43 million, and Omari.

But the really heated battle gets played out between Kimondo and Monica who is tough as nails when it comes to justifying their personal expenditures, including their eight-bedroom house in Kitengela.

The mental sparring between the two gets fierce and personal. She accuses him of growing up the son of a rich man who’s never known poverty. He accuses her of having a history of sleeping with rich older men who help her get where she wants to go socially.