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Art

Unresolved conflict and prejudices in ‘Lady in Red’

Mothers in labour with no beds
Mothers in labour with no beds & aid in Heartstrings' For better or worse. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

Son of Man is a promising new theatre troupe that already has a following, plus an able playwright-producer in Mavin Kibicho who wrote The Lady in Red.

The play, which was staged last Sunday at the Kenya National Theatre, explores the sensitive subject of religion. Set in the heart of a Muslim home, Ousmane (Makovo Mbatha) is a university student with a romantic spirit and poetic soul. Yet he comes from a strict Muslim family where non-believers are not welcome.

That does not stop him from finding a new girlfriend on campus who happens to be Christian. So you can be sure it is his romantic rebellion that is at the crux of the play’s conflict, which never gets resolved.

Ousmane tries to lead a double life, being a good Muslim as he still lives at home with his pious parents and a poet and a free spirit when he is out and about. At home, he is constrained by a mother (Boera Bisiera) who is a terrible busybody who won’t even allow her son to use the loo without interrupting his privacy. That is the opening scene, which would seem to be a peculiar way to start off a play. But apparently, it is meant to foreshadow the way the mum’s intrusive style will have a catalytic effect, blasting open her son’s double life.

Ousmane’s old girlfriend, Oleymatai (Samba Zaddock) is a good Muslim girl and the mother’s preference. She is also intent on keeping her claws in Ousmane. But to him, she is a nuisance. Now he only has eyes for Eva (Naomi Mburuh), the beautiful half-caste girl from France.

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By the time Eva arrives on the scene, she has missed Ousmane who’s not home since he never got the message she was coming. He might have waylaid her if he had. But Oleymata steals his phone, reads Eva’s texts and is hell-bent on getting this new girl out of Ousmane’s life for good.

This is where the play gets “bloody” (in a metaphorical sense). Eva only finds Oleymata at Ousmane’s house when she arrives. Not knowing only Muslims are welcome there, she allows herself to be taken in by Oleymata who is a schemer.

As she pretends to be Ousmane’s sister, she exploits Eva’s naivete and makes her look like a sacrificial lamb who’ll soon be slaughtered if she does not get out in good time. Eva is unaware that she is in danger, especially from Oleymata who insists on getting the inside scoop on the new affair. Eva foolishly tells her just enough to enflame Oleymata’s heart.

The climax comes when Ousmane, the parents and the two girlfriends converge on the family sitting room. Before anyone knows what’s up, Oleymata takes charge, spewing out a mixture of truth and lies that both incense the parents and wounds Eva who feels betrayed and heartbroken. But she’s smart enough to before things get seriously “bloody”.

Kaboom! That’s how the play ends. Not that it feels concluded. Kibicho leaves us hanging without any sort of resolution. But maybe that’s his message.

In any case, Lady in Red was not the only show last weekend that went in for the “cliff hanger”. Even Heartstrings’ comedy-drama, For Better or Worse ended with a similar sort of inconclusive bang.

Designed to tell several stories in this four-act show, the one unifying thread seems to come out in the last explosive soliloquy of the bride-to-be who blasts her mercenary family for being just as money-minded and corrupt as the society as a whole.

The first two acts have a common thread as they are both set in a maternity ward, where one father (Paul Ogola) is forced to “steal” his newborn from hospital since the bill far beyond his means. He’s caught as he slips past the pregnant women who, despite being in or nearly in labour, have to stand unattended since no beds are available.

The tragic truth about Kenya’s public health care services is followed by another tragicomic scene in a school classroom where kids are either left unattended or berated by a dysfunctional teacher (Cyrian Osoro) who should never have been allowed near a classroom.

The final scene takes us back to the village where one family is demanding an exorbitant dowry. This infuriates the bride-to-be who blasts her people for being as heartless and corrupt as the rest of society.

Then, kaboom. Play over. Was it too much to ask that the various plot threads be woven together in a concluding style? So it would seem.

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