Kiss and Tell is the hottest (most ferocious) show I’ve ever seen Heartstrings Players perform. Scorching hot is the way we saw men and women’s marital relations unfold and nearly self-destruct last weekend at Alliance Francaise.
It starts off as a slow burn emanating from Mark (Victor Nyaata) who is enthusiastically preparing to welcome home his air hostess wife (Adelyne Wairimu). He only sees her three days a week but she hardly notices. She’s having the time of her life, flying internationally and seeing the world while he, a veterinarian with little business and less cash, waits impatiently for her return.
Having too much time on his hands, he conjures up all sorts of images of her having flings with everyone from her pilot to their family friend. His insecurities are compounded by his old-style macho attitudes and the offence of her earning more than he does.
Unfortunately, Mark’s insecurities are irrational and raw. But since they sound similar to what many wives hear when their spouses go on emotional tirades of their own, Kiss and Tell isn’t quite as funny as one normally finds Heartstrings shows. It hits a bit too close for comfort.
In fact, it’s patriarchy that isn’t pretty, especially as the system of thinking that men are superior beings has gotten old.
Unfortunately, Mark’s wife, Noella inadvertently feeds his jealousy by talking about her flight pilot. Then when she rejects the new car he bought her by breaking into their mutual savings account, he takes her distress as ingratitude.
But the last straw that she finds unforgivable is when, after her ‘chama’ girlfriends eat up the chicken she’s prepared, he goes wild and makes a horrible scene once he sees they’ve left him only the neck, which traditionally is only eaten by women.
He embarrasses her to tears. But as she defends herself and her friends, act one ends with their argument remaining explosive and unresolved.
Act two opens at a Men’s Conference organised as a backlash to men’s feeling wounded by relationships that have assaulted their egos. All four spouses of Noella and her chama friends are at the conference. Each man is planted in the audience so that their emotional angst explodes across the auditorium.
In act one, the wives, all except Noella have been complaining about their spouses for assorted offences.
Ann Kamau’s husband has kept her pregnant throughout their marriage, so she’s now got eight kids with number nine on the way. Mackrine’s married to a rich man who gives her anything she wants but is rarely at home. And Bernice’s man is a handsome rogue who often gets locked up.
But Noella has never complained about Mark to her friends until he abuses them for eating ‘his’ chicken and for their telling him to get out of ‘his’ house while their chama meets.
Like many Kenyan women who have unhappy homes, she doesn’t let on to even her closest friends that he’s a macho idiot, offended by women who have the audacity to eat food that’s traditionally off limits to them.
The climax of the play is when, after all the spouses have spewed anti-women trash talk at the conference, the wives invade the stage and take it over.
The scene gets so stormy that one sincerely fears it might turn into a series of fist-fights right there on the stage. Indeed, divorce looks imminent.
But the final scene defies all expectations. The three couples make up and plan a trip together, including Noella and Mark. But she is already moving out, preparing to take all her belongings when the threesome arrive and give all the reasons why marriage should continue even if fights ensue occasionally.
One can’t imagine that either Mark or Noella could swallow that perspective but in the end, the woman has the last word and concedes.
Whether one feels dissatisfied with the way the story ends, we can assume Heartstrings means not to rock the marital boat. They clearly know the ‘battle of the sexes’ will continue, modified a bit by women’s roles having changed. But it will still be up to men to give up their old, out-moded attitude that they’re superior by definition.
Meanwhile, women are getting stronger, more self-sufficient and independent. So the situation is fluid and that is why shows like Kiss and Tell have a place where women and men can debate and even imagine a world where ‘the storm is over’ and gender reconciliation is real.