Monday, May 14, 2012

Cons and Crazies filled Nairobi stages in May

CONS AND CRAZIES Stole the Nairobi Stage

BY Margaretta wa Gacheru
Appeared in Sunday Nation, Nairobi, May 14, 2012

Festival of the Creative arts produced a nearly perfect comedy thriller last weekend when they staged Dirty Sexy Money at Alliance Francaise.

The pace was swift and sassy; the dialogue sharp and snappy, and the surprising plot twists and turns were stunning and satisfying for the full house crowds who’ve come to expect high-powered entertainment from FCA. 

Director Mbeki Mwalimu deserves praise, but so does the whole cast who brainstormed around Larry Beghal’s imported script and reshaped it to suit a Kenyan lifestyle.

It was definitely a show for adults as it had more titillating moments than I can recall seeing on a Kenyan stage. But it wasn’t the erotica that was most striking about DSM. It was the high-quality cunning of the cons; the fact that literally everybody’s corrupt; nobody’s clean in this surprisingly upbeat production.
Derrick Amunga and Hellen Waithera are master cons in Dirty Sexy Money. Pix: Marta Obiegla

Sadly, so many of the characters in the show seem to correlate with Kenyans we know. For instance, there’s the corrupt Member of Parliament (Andrew Muthure is brilliantly brash and lusty), the angry jilted wife (Jackie Mungai), the malleable model (Hellena Waithera) ready to use her sexy style to get ahead irrespective of ethics or family values, and the master mind and crafty con man (Derrick Amunga) out for quick cash who uses his genius not to solve Kenya’s pressing social problems but to devise perfect crimes that exacerbate the problems.
 Hellen Waithera and Andrew Muthure are both con artists in Dirty Sexy Money. Pix: Marta Obiegla

The show took us on a roller coaster ride of startling cons that ended badly for practically everyone, except the master mind.

So what’s the message? Crime does pay?

Like FCA, Phoenix Players also employed artistic license, adapting Luigi Pirandello’s witty Italian script to the Kenyan context. In so doing, they confirm that rumor-mongering is a universal pastime. Be you Italian or African, the tendency for locals to stand back and speculate about strangers come to town is something that happens in small towns around the world.

In the case of Pirandello’s ‘Right you are (if you think you are’), Phoenix Players have teamed up with the Italian Institute of Culture with the understanding that the Players could take artistic liberties with the great playwright’s script. But they frankly didn’t need to change much since rumor-mongering is so common to small town everywhere that the challenge to director Millicent Ogutu was mainly preparing her large cast of local gossips to work well together on phoenix’s basement stage.

Fortunately, this cast acted with gusto and glee as they speculated about the strange behavior of the new government official who had come to town with two women who he housed separately. The big issue for the village was why did he do it, especially when the women were mother and daughter as well as wife and mother in law?
                   The town gossips in Pirandello's Right you are (if you think you are)

It was a fair question, but as Lausidi (Brian Munene), the one sane neighbor asked, why not mind your own business rather than snoop into others?  

Lausidi is an interesting character and a foil to his sister Amalia (Njoki Ngumi) who spearheads the gossipy crew who have the audacity to call both the mother in law and the government official to find out ‘the truth’.
Lausidi’s point is that truth is relative in any case; it’s purely subjective: thus the title-right you are if you think you are. He doesn’t argue with the village gossips but he does challenge them to appreciate that they will never find the absolute truth of their concern.

The gossips (mostly young, fresh and new to Phoenix) have wonderful timing and are ravenous for more details to chew on. They get a veritable feast when the mother in law, mrs flora shows up and clearly has a mental problem.

Marrianne Nungo is brilliant as the mentally unbalanced mum who tells her story with candor and conviction, but who after spilling a tidbit or two injects a wild little giggle. Initially, the giggles seem incidentally, but soon they become unsettling. Her derangement is obvious, but the gossips love it since it adds spicy flavor to their storytelling. 
         Marrianne Nungo (left) is brilliant as the crazy mother in law at Phoenix Theatre

But as juicy as the mama’s version of her family tale is, what throws the gossipers an even bigger bone is when the official, Mr Ponza (Joe Kinyua) shows up. He looks just as loony as his mother in law.
We never meet his wife, but who cares. The gossips have so much fodder, they now don’t know what to think, but this is where the philosopher Lausidi has the last word: We may never get to the bottom of this local ‘mystery’ but if you think you know what it’s all about, then ‘right you are’!

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