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Art

Improv comedy: Kenya actors put aside scripts

Last Man Standing
Joe (Nick Kwach) is confronted by wife (Tasha Wanjiru) and friend (Jackline) in Last Man Standing. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Heartstrings Entertainment’s latest comedy, ‘Last Man Standing’, which was staged last weekend at Alliance Francaise, is a patriarchal fantasy in which Nick Kwach doesn’t just play the ‘last man’.

He’s the ‘first and last’ man standing. He puts on a brilliantly blistering performance as a head-of-household who gets his authority challenged by his wife (Tasha Wanjiru).

At first glance, one can see why he explodes at her after listening to her nag and nag over petty things like a phone call from a female workmate, the misplacing of his wedding ring. He tries to calm her fears as he seems to understand they stem from her insecurities.

But finally, he erupts, telling her his truthful feelings about all things he’s never told her before. In this regard, he’s being honest, but the truth about everything — from her horrible cooking to how much his mother detests her — stuns and shuts her up.

In no time, she’s gone and he resorts to his best friend’s (Cyprian Osoro) employment bureau to hire not one but three women to replace the one wife to do all the domestic chores.

Apparently, the woman is that replaceable. The man in this patriarchal society of ours can easily go and shop for replacements, even if he needs three or more.

His friend and his wife, who’d been best couple at their wedding, tried to reconcile them at the outset of the tiff. They lamely explained in euphemistic terms that marriage is a ‘journey’ and there are ‘punctures’ along the way. But they can always be repaired.

Ultimately, that’s the message of the show since maids one and two arrived on the scene and made life hell for Nick. When maid number three turns out to be his wife, he explodes once more, but this time it’s to cast out the two maids. Then there’s a return to the status quo. Only now, the wife has been tamed as she just lost her job and with it the financial leverage.

I feel Nick’s performance was a tour de force. But I also see why feminists claim Heartstrings is biased. And certainly, Last Man Standing reveals the kind of power men can wield, even when they’re not presidents or kings. They still feel totally entitled. And when a woman, even a spouse questions their authority, they can either give them the boot or a beating, which I find abhorrent.

Nonetheless, I have seen many strong female actors come up through Heartstrings and I applaud Sammy Mwangi for encouraging women to shine onstage. And even though Nick didn’t give Tasha ‘the boot’, since she left of her own accord, still it wouldn’t be bad to see a bit more gender equity in future in Heartstrings shows.

Still on the issue of comedy, tomorrow afternoon (from 4pm) until late, Kenya’s first ever ‘improv (not improve) comedy show’ will stage its 26th edition at the Carnivore show ground.

‘Because You Said So’ is a brilliant team of professional artists who meet and perform stand-up comedy every other month at assorted venues.

‘Improv’ is short for improvisational theatre, meaning actors perform without scripts and to keep their rapport fresh and their act alive and inspired, they also don’t rehearse. This means they must be super sharp and quick on their mental feet.

And that’s the case for all seven in BYSS, starting with Jason Runo who is the producer and MC of the company. The remaining six are renowned entertainers, including Mugambi Nthiga, June Gachui and Patricia Kihoro as well as Yafesi Musoke, Kevin Kimani and Justin Karunguru.

Because You Said So is also interactive so if one wants a truly entertaining day with the stars, head to the Carnivore tomorrow and have some fun.

Finally, Back to Basics brings us ‘Breathe: Stories by Jackson Biko’ next weekend, October 19-21 at Alliance Francaise.

It won’t be the first time a theatre troupe picked up on an exceptional Kenyan blog and transformed it into an amazing performance.

Too Early for Birds did it first with their adapting historical tales lifted off the blog of Owaahh!

And now Mbeki Mwalimu and her B2B cast are doing something similar with the Bikozulu blog.

Blending blog-stuff and theatre has been described as a new ‘sub-genre’ of art.

But whatever it’s called, it’s a tribute to Biko and should be a fascinating new approach to Kenyan theatre.

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