When the history of 21st century Kenyan theatre finally gets written, Seth Busolo is bound to be identified as one of the finest stage producer-directors.
For he not only knows how to assemble a highly professional cast and crew as we just saw this past weekend when his theatre company, Wholesome Entertainment, put on his Corporate Wife at Alliance Francaise.
Busolo also has the advantage of being a brilliant scriptwriter who creates characters crafted so close to the bone of real-life Kenyans with all their complications and contradictions that no one who’s seeking insights into the Kenyan character should miss one of his plays.
This was especially true in the case of Corporate Wife, which Busolo was wise enough to get a first-class thespian like Mkamzee Mtawale to direct. Despite Mkamzee being one of the busiest actors in Kenya today (on stage, film and TV almost simultaneously), she still found time to direct Busolo’s latest drama-comedy. It was she who ensured the show was both nuanced and suspenseful. Her direction also kept us cringing as this one woman, Suzanne (Pauline Kyamo Komu), the ‘corporate wife’ is so caught up with becoming a corporate success that she forgets to be kind, mindful and respectful towards the people she’d previously cared about most.
That includes her spouse, David (played masterfully by Justin Miriichi), her best friend Diane (Marianne Nungo), and even her crazy nephew Kioko (Justin Marunguru).
The one thing that is slightly confusing about the show is the topic of feminism. But that is understandable since the concept of gender equality (which is essentially what feminism means) is hardly visible anywhere in the world, leave alone in Kenya.
But the play should generate important debates since every woman in the show represents a different characterisation of what it means to be a woman, wife, worker and feminist in Kenya today. There is Suzanne who wants to make it in the corporate world. However, she is obstructed from performing at her best by her boss, Jack (Alfred Munyua), who is flagrantly chauvinistic in the sense that he can’t stand seeing women stepping into previously all-male domains. He sees Suzanne advancing on the job and does all he can to frustrate her every move. He even admits that if she’d compromised herself sexually with him, she’d have had a better chance of getting ahead.
Suzanne also listens too hard to her girlfriend Diane (Marianne Nungo) who encourages her to not be ‘held back’ by her husband David, especially after he loses his job, leaving her to be the family bread-winner.
One could easily call Diane a feminist. But then she also shows little regard for Suzanne’s decision to marry David in the first place.
Meanwhile, Blessing (Kate Khasoa) is the sort of woman who defers to patriarchy and easily accepts her second-class social status. However, she’s also petty and plays an active role in bringing Suzanne down in the eyes of her best friend, her future boss, Sandra (Daisy Busolo) and even her spouse.
But Sandra seems to be the most progressive woman in the play. She knows what she wants, is not impressed with empty verbiage and is prepared to give other women opportunities to work for a fair wage.
Suzanne is so hungry for corporate success that she accepts Sandra’s job offer without consulting David first or even thinking twice about cutting her best friend out of a senior position, while taking it for herself instead.
Ultimately, both David and Diane call her out for her bad behaviour. Diane explodes in thorough-going disgust that a life-long friend could sink to such treachery. And David reminds her of how she broke their vows, especially by ignoring their original plans and making self-serving decisions rather than sustaining a happy, albeit humble family and home.
The ending should conceivably spur lively debate. David accepts a job offer to go to work for Diane in Zanzibar. However, he’s cajoled by Suzanne to stick around and try to make their marriage work. His is a difficult position and Miriichi leaves us guessing as he lingers over the choice of whether to leave his wife or stay.
He only decides in the final moments of the play, but I won’t spoil it by saying which way he goes. The audience had strong opinions about the direction he took. But to find out yourself, you may have to ask Busolo to stage his Corporate Wife again.