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Art

Play lays bare today’s marriage corruption

A scene in ‘‘First things First.’’ PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
A scene in ‘‘First things First.’’ PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Heartstrings sparkled last Sunday afternoon as they staged their last day of First things First before a full-house crowd that was totally attuned to the singular topic of their production.

For while marriage seems somewhat out of fashion these days, given all the stories of disappearing dads and woe-begotten single moms, Heartstrings’ show proved marriage is still a topic that resonates in the public domain.

Staged just in time for Valentine’s Day, when courting is meant to swing into high gear and ‘romantic love’ (accompanied by roses, sweets and other luxuries) is a major marketing tool, First things First was apparently meant to alert both men and women to beware!

Beware of what could come next (after the ceremonial event) since wedlock isn’t what you think. It’s problematic whichever way you go. That’s the reality that might explain why so many young people practice the ‘come-we-stay’ relationship.

It’s the kind that has no strings attached and is possibly even more problematic than wedlock, but that’s a subject for a different Heartstrings script.

This one explores pre-marital positioning from various perspectives, all of which bring home the point that marriage, like many institutions in Kenya currently, has been corrupted in so many ways.

First things First initially takes us to the Attorney-General’s (AG) office where simple civil marriages take place in minutes.

The red tape bureaucratic paper work is a bit confusing to Muui (Victor Nyaata). But it’s the message from both married men at the AG’s (Kiiui and Muuwawa played by Nick Qwach and Cyprian Osoro respectively) that hints at the heart of the problem.

“Be prepared,” Kiiui cautions. “Not that marriage is ‘bad’ but be prepared for change,” he warns. In other words, people change once they are wed.

The litany of marital horrors shared among the two married guys is hilarious, but disheartening and deeply misogynous.

But Muui is not deterred, not even when his fiancée, Florence (Nimo Adelyne) arrives and we realise she’s had an unsavoury history with Cyprian’s character Muuwawa.

But then, Act Two takes us to an alternative route to wedlock, the ‘proper’ Christian one. But this one looks even worse that the AG’s since we’re given a brilliant portrait of the classic con man (Nick Qwach again), the so-called Christian hustler-hypocrite who’s got a smooth, money-churning church machine, all designed to stuff the preacher’s and his colleagues’ pockets with poor people’s hard-earned pennies.

Nick and Cyprian both get double cast in Act 2 as they serve as the pastor and his right-hand huckster con-man who hands out mandatory forms to be filled by the couple with cash attached.

It’s painful to watch the pastor’s smooth, but sinister hustle since he also seems to have his own serial sex service that enlists most female members of the church. Fortunately, Muui and Florence get fed up and walk away.

Finally, they try the traditional route. They go to Flo’s village where her peasant relations have also been corrupted by a dowry (bride-price) system that, like the church, never stops making monetary demands on the man.

What’s truly refreshing about First thing First is the resolution. It comes from the couple who try to do the right thing and are virtually defeated at every established turn that they take. Clearly, something new has to happen if marriage is going to work in the 21st century.

One sees an inkling of that new model in Victor and Adelyne’s characters when they stand up together and tell off both the church con men and the villagers, all of whom are out not for the couple’s happiness, but for their own personal gain.

So now, what’s required, it would seem, is for couples to look seriously into their own motivations for marriage and then go the way they feel is best.

The two factors that Heartstrings left out were the parents and future in-laws. But these too will serve as another script.

Numerous friends of Heartstrings were heard requesting the group stage extra performances of First things First since it was sold out before they could watch. But director Sammy Mwangi says it’s not possible since the troupe is already deep into developing their next show.

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