‘The Kings of Con’ falls short of expectations

Jasper (left) is conned by John Carlo as con
Jasper (left) is conned by John Carlo as con artistes Trufena and Conrad look on. PHOTO | MARGARETAA WA GACHERU 

From hilarity to high absurdity and beyond, Festival of Creative Arts’ (FCA) production of Conmen; The Kings of Con! was genuinely an uproarious joke, only that at times one couldn’t tell whether to laugh or cry at the crazy antics unfolding on stage at the Kenya National Theatre last weekend.

The problem with the show was that it appeared under-rehearsed, so much so that cast members occasionally called each other by the wrong name. One could often not tell which lines were scripted and silly and which ones were ad-libbed or improvised. Perhaps it’s because FCA is doing too many shows.

Either way, the chief conman (Maina Olwenya) was highly entertaining. He played Conrad, the fast-talking, smooth-tongued ex-convict who’d been in prison for the last 10 years and was staying with his sister Barbara (Janet Kirina) despite vehement protests from her husband Jasper (Robert Agenyo).

But Jasper has no means of fighting both his wife and his widowed (and supposedly rich) step-mother Trufena (Rosemary Waweru) who arrives for dinner just in time to meet Conrad who apparently sweeps her off her feet.

It turns out Trufena is as much of a con as is Conrad since she’s as poor as a church mouse, despite posing as wealthy.

The hilarity hots up when Conrad’s prison pal (Bilal Mwaura Ng'ang'a) arrives on the scene, pretending to be a world-renowned artist named John Carlo Espezito, who nobody’s ever heard of, but they all believe Conrad’s brand new con game that he’s suddenly devised with his pal.

Then there’s the banker (Juma Williams) and the jewellery store owner (Diana Kubebea) who get caught up in Conrad’s calculated cons, one related to the sale in ‘‘diamonds’’ which of course are fake.

Ultimately, it’s the jeweller who tests the fake diamonds and Conrad gets caught in the act. Otherwise, everyone else, including Jasper, is gullible enough to get tricked.

Even Janet and Trufena are about to pose in the nude for the fake artist, only to be saved by the timely arrival of the jeweller who blows Conrad’s and his buddy’s con games.

Meanwhile, several productions are upcoming starting Friday night with Phoenix Players performing The Cemetery Club.