Hearts of Art had several challenges to meet in re-staging A Kiss Through the Veil as they did last weekend at Braeburn Theatre.
The first had to do with memory. Reviving some of the most traumatic moments in Kenya’s post-independence past was courageous, even noble.
But given how quickly the human mind can forget and the generations that have grown up since the post-election violence (PEV) of 2007-2008, some might say the play has lost some of its resonance with the public.
But assuming that is not true, the other challenge the play’s producer, director, and script writer Walter Sitati had to face were the multiple last-minute cast changes.
That’s why we got to see the 12-year-old Alison Chemiat be one of the few cast members who played the same character as two years before. Playing Kira, the ‘fatherless’ PEV child born to the rape victim Reyna (Tracy Amadi), her mum had been so traumatised by her gang rape she couldn’t tell anyone, not even her friend Tesla (Irene Nyivu) or her spouse Toni (Rexton Saul). For all 10 years that he’d been in jail, she’d never told, so naturally he exploded once he learnt his wife had a 10-year-old kid.
Unfortunately, before Toni showed up, A Kiss Through the Veil lacks the emotional depth required to tell such a complicated tale. It was probably a function of the last-minute cast changes which meant Reyna didn’t convince us why she couldn’t tell her man the truth about her situation.
The hot exchange between landlord (Allan Sifuna) and Pop (Benson Obiero) remedied the otherwise bland first act. Comic relief also came through in the form of the landlord’s rebellious daughter (Suzzie Joanittah).
The play gathered momentum after Toni came home and met Kira. Despite Rexton Saul’s being a newcomer to Hearts of Art, his fiery indignation at Reyna’s decade-long silence about the child was understandable. What wasn’t so credible was the way Tesla quickly turned him into a sympathiser of his wife’s traumatic rape.
What also felt slightly incredible were Reyna’s confrontation with Richard (Ramsey Njire), her rapist and his gun-slinging confession as to why he’d abused his best friend’s wife the moment Toni was out of sight.
Sitati must be applauded for grappling with the painful after-effects of PEV. But as the issues are sensitive, the show needed a cast emotionally prepared to convey the trauma that’s still a part of Kenyans’ collective memory.