It’s rare to see two love stories staged in Nairobi in the same week, but that’s what’s been happening.
‘Constellations’ is definitely a thinking person’s play. The two-hander, starring Silvia Cassini and Philip Coulson, opened last night at Braeburn Theatre. So there’s only tonight that one will have a chance to see it live.
That is, if one is only talking about this one lifetime. ‘Constellations’ contemplates the possibility that each of us might have more than one life, live in a multitude of ‘parallel universes’ at the same time. Thus, in any one of those other parallel worlds, you might have another chance to see Nick Payne’s popular play. But then, who knows!
The play, directed by John Sibi Okumu, doesn’t just contemplate the notion of limitless possibilities for living. It actually illustrates that prospect on a minimalist scale.
The story is ostensibly a love affair, the unfolding of an improbable relationship between a brilliant theoretical physicist and a humble beekeeper. But it’s so much more than that. Payne plays with heady concepts that Marianne delights in theorising on. Not that Roland understands a word of what she says about relativity or quantum mechanics, leave alone string theory or ‘basic laws of physics’. But it almost doesn’t matter since there’s chemistry between them as sparks fly between the actors.
Yet theirs is no ordinary love affair. Each scene and short set of lines are played out several times, with each version a variation on every other. So it’s as if the actors mentally and emotionally leap-frog from one parallel universe to another.
So on the one hand, Marianne can be sweet and receptive to Roland’s interest in her. On another, he might be aloof and disinterested in her come-on’s.
And on one occasion, it is she who cheats on him. But in the following scene, it’s he who betrays her with another woman.
So their relationship progresses in a non-lineal style to a point where he proposes and she must decide what to do. Does she accept or reject his ring? If there are parallel universes, the answer is no longer a yes or no debate. There are infinite possibilities.
The best part of watching Silvia and Philip perform is seeing how broad their emotional ranges are. The script might be genius, but the actors’ wizardry is truly tested when we witness how well they switch from hot to cold, sweet to sour in the twinkling of an eye.
Meanwhile, Jean Akinyi’s ‘Love Contract’ has a very different slant on romance.
Under Zippy Okoth’s direction, the Legacy Arts production (staged last weekend at Kenya National Theatre) was a musical drenched in pop culture and filled with familiar love songs that had this talented cast of four breaking into song every chance they got.
Thanks to the show’s producer-director Zippy Okoth assembling an outstanding team, she made Martin Mutegi musical director and Joseph Ochieng the choreographer. Both did a brilliant job, especially as I don’t believe it’s easy to weave together drama, song and dance into a conspiracy cum love story.
Contract Love also reflects the current situation, embodied in Anita (Jane Makena), of a multitude of Kenyan graduates who can’t find good jobs, so they resort to any lowly task just to get by.
In Anita’s case, her boyfriend Tom (Vitalis Waweru) finds her a job cleaning house for his rich uncle Chris (Papi Obeq).
Chris is sick and grumpy; meanwhile, his business partner Harriet (Suki Wanza) is scheming to swindle him out of his company shares. It turns out Anita, who’s studied law, advises him wisely and in time to save him from his loss.
Meanwhile, she and Chris get close, which, of course, breaks Tom’s heart. It also shatters Harriet’s scheme. But then, multiple murders intervene so the show ends a bit too abruptly for my taste.
Nonetheless, with the cast singing songs by everyone from Bruno Mars, Michael Bolton and Tony Braxton to Whitney Houston, Miles Davis and even Elvis Presley, ‘Contract Love’ is a thoroughly entertaining show that Zippy will hopefully restage sometime soon.
Finally, this evening is also when Walter Sitati and Hearts of Art will restage ‘What Can’t Kill You’ at Pawa 254. Sitati is one of Kenya’s most consistent and creative playwrights who also directs and acts in most of his productions.
Hearts of Art will also be part of the Samosa Festival which opens this Sunday at the Alchemist. It will be filled with films, provocative public forums, and lots more.